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hong kong taxi

Cabbin' in a foreign land is always an interesting experience.

When I visit relatives back east, they comment on my Californian accent. Right. I speak as announcers do on TV, the proper way; their accent is the abomination. But I digress . . .

So in a foreign land, it’s not just the different language that can be a barrier, but your accent as well as their’s. Case in point, a minor translation problem on my first trip to Hong Kong. I kinda cheated on that first trip by taking my friend Dave with me. He spent his formative years there, graduating from high school from The Hong Kong International School. So he was familiar with the island and its people and I was set for an exotic trip complete with local guide. Dave was out to impress, but ran afoul of his plans almost from the minute we landed.

Off the plane, through customs and out into the sultry night . . . sultry is probably an understatement. The humidity was so oppressive it had a physical presence, the weight of the air unbearable. The line for taxis was relatively short and within a few minutes we hopped into a cab. Dave gave the driver our destination. “Ramada Hotel,” he ordered in an imperial voice. ( No attempt at local slang, but then though he is Hawaiian, in China he qualifies as Caucasian and he was dealing with a local Chinese. I guess that whole colonial master thing was ingrained in him from having once lived in the colony).

Down the highway the cabbie flew as only an Asian cab driver can. While totally disregarding rules of the road and any other driver stupid enough to try and share the road with him, our driver chattered away to his dispatcher via radio for a few minutes before turning to Dave and questioning, “Ramada?”

Uh, oh. Now I knew the Ramada couldn’t be some unknown dive as we were being put up by a large corporation who’d flown us to Hong Kong to look at a new type of carpeting that they’d installed at the airport. Yep, free trip. Way cool. The cabbie’s confusion didn’t bother Dave, who I guess figured further information was all that was needed and replied (in that same voice), “Kowloon”.

Wow! Quick exit off the freeway and off we shot back the way we’d just come. Guess the ‘Kowloon’ info was important. More chattering over the radio with his dispatcher. Then a timid and unsure query, “Ramada?” as he looked once again at Dave as though some instantaneous spark of comprehension would strike.

No such luck, so instead he tried repeating the word as a mantra while piling down the road, “Ramada . . . Ramada . . . Ramada”.

Dave tends to have a short fuse. By now it ignited. And as many English speaking folk do when confronted with someone who doesn’t speak their language, he tried again only repeating himself louder, “RAMADA!”

Dave is 6’ 4”, weighs over 250 lbs. and has a real scary, snarly look on his face when displeased. Our driver, no Bruce Lee, probably weighed in a bit over 90 lbs. and immediately began jabbering with his dispatcher again, probably alerting him to his impending doom at the hand of this crazy white devil.

So he’s busy babbling to his dispatcher, occasionally repeating the word ‘Ramada” while Dave is practically yelling the same word at the top of his lungs and we’re zipping past other cars on our way to God knows where . . . though probably not our hotel. Then, after some more incomprehensible prattle from the radio, our cabbie gets a look of celestial blessings on his face and says, “Ah! Ra Ma Da!”

Quick freeway exit, two lefts, and we pull up in front of our hotel, the Kowloon Ramada, better known as the Ra Ma Da. Happy cabbie; he’s still alive. Happy me, after 15 hours of flying I see a bed in sight. And a pissed off Dave, who assumes I now think he’s a total ingrate and stooge when it comes to being a tour guide of the colony. Hey, but he introduced me to the Temple Street Market and its fortune tellers, as well as numerous pubs and bars, so I’d still give him two thumbs up for showing me the local sights.