Next month will mark 17 years of my working life as a taxi driver in Vietnam. I prefer calling my city Saigon — it has a unique sound and suits the place much better than Ho Chi Minh City. Or maybe I’m just an old fashioned Vietnamese who is unable to move forward without revisiting the past and finding refuge in its certainty.
Being a taxi driver is tough, especially if you live in a hierarchical society. But then again, all jobs have their demanding aspects. You either have the power to find fulfillment in your work or get defeated by it.
So while people may find that driving people around in a cab such a tedious, unsuccessful career choice, I’ve learned to grow and love my life as a taxi driver.
I used to work day shift, but ever since I got married, I work from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. the next day. I could take care of my kids during the day while my wife is at the office.
Driving at night has been a different experience. The moment the sky is covered with stark darkness, the city puts on a new personality.
Instead of formal attires and worried looks that people often put on during the day, night-time customers are mostly more cheerful and relaxed. You might be thinking that it’s probably the effect of alcohol. The truth is I don’t come across inebriated customers that often.
Maybe you’ll find more drunken souls in cities like London or New York, but in Saigon no matter how crazy things get, complete silence will arrive after 2 a.m.
Silence and darkness make a powerful combination. Some of the most interesting customers I’ve met are the ones who’ve taken the early morning rides. Many headed out to the airport to catch early flights. Others just flew from some foreign cities and needed a ride to their hotels.
Though my English skill is limited, I enjoy meeting people from all walks of life. Especially when I meet foreign visitors, I have this overwhelming sense of responsibility, as if I’m representing my country in some diplomatic event.
Like everything else in life, there are low and high days working as a taxi driver. I will spare you the details of good days, as according to Leo Tolstoy: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
During heavy rain or storms, Saigon gets flooded. The water draining system is broken to the point that most houses in the city center have water filled half of the first floor. You can go fishing at the convenience of your home.
Those are some horrible days to work. You’re lucky if your car can move at all. Most cars are stuck in the dirty water and you’ll have to wait till the water is drained to get them out.
At the end of the day, for what it’s worth, I find satisfaction in my job as a taxi driver. The job has taught me to be more patient, curious, and open. Some of the most honest conversations I’ve had with strangers happened in that boxy space of my car.
Believe it or not, things aren’t always the way they look. But if you open your eyes a bit wider and listen a little closer, you’ll find beauty in anything you do.