On my many overseas trips, the journey from the airport to the city/hotel usually provides a fertile opportunity to strike up a conversation with the taxi driver.
These conversations provide a great insight into the people and the country - it is amazing just how people open up when 'boxed' up in a vehicle.
Description of Journey: From OR Tambo International to Jo'berg CBD (South Africa)
Journey Time: 40mins
Cost of journey: 350 Rand (approx 65 SGD)
Date: Sometime in mid May when the xenophobia violence broke out in Johannesburg townships
Taxi driver: 'Prince' - we called him the 'Fresh Prince of Joberg'
Background: Prince is a native South African and speaks English pretty well albeit with a strong Africana accent. Taxis in Johannesburg are usually unmarked and run privately, so it is important to find a driver whom one can trust, especially if it is the first trip there. Due to this reason, people like Prince are doing a roaring trade chauffeuring foreigners around.
Prince owns four Mercedes Benz, including a Mercedes 4x4 and a 300 series. Probed further, he revealed that Mercedes evokes the imagery of a dependable, reliable and classy ride. Beemers are a 'no-no', since they are usually targets for carjackers.
There is no available public transport to bring travellers from the airport to the city - the only option is via the taxis or minibuses. The airport is currently undergoing massive renovations in preparation for the World Cup 2010.
Interesting observations: En-route to the city, we came across several Nike ads which depicts athletes in various pledges of using their bodies as a 'weapon' to 'fight' the odds. This was how Nike South Africa defined their campaign: Every day is a struggle in South Africa, albeit a struggle for respect and dignity, or a fight for food or against crime, Nike feels it has a powerful message to share – that through sport, anyone can overcome anything."
Goes to show how violence is so ingrained in the South Afican psyhic/culture.
Conversations: Inquired about the xenophobic violence in the townships. Prince was particularly against foreigners from other parts of Africa who are taking away their jobs. Sounds familiar to what's happening back home in Singapore, I added. Folks back home in Singer are complaining about highly-skilled jobs taken over by foreign talents. Adding to the pain, even lower-skilled jobs are becoming scarce, due to influx of cheaper labour from parts of Asia.
Here, immigrants from Zimbabwe, Somalia having attracted by South Africa's brighter lights and better opportunites have poured into the country since the past decade. The outbreak of violence was the culmination of anger and frustration at the loss of jobs to immigrants, fuelled by the rising cost of living which have escalated at least threefold since the beginning of the year.
Funny Incident: Not just our designated driver, Prince has many other clients to attend to. So, on one occasion, he was not available and sent a 'stand-in' driver to pick us up. Our stand-in driver turned out to be a scholar and have little or no experience driving in Jo'berg. The car stalled twice as he tried to start the car in 2nd gear and we ended up 'cruising' in Jo'berg at a lesiurely 40km/h.
Loss of jobs to foreigners seems to be the common grouse these days, but this seems inevitable as the world gets progessively flatter. Especially for a open and small nation like Singapore without any natural resources, the effect will be even more pronounced for native Singaporeans when our government strive to attract the best into our city.