The Taxi Mafia Strikes Back
Apparently, it takes way more than magnificent skyscrapers and glitzy malls to make a modern country. Five minutes after our arrival in Kuala Lumpur at the Putra bus station, we came face to face with the city’s notorious taxi mafia making it quite clear that part of Malaysia is still quite unapologetically third world.
Although all taxis have a painted statement on the doors that the meter MUST be used and no alternate prices are acceptable, the smirking mafiosi insisted on ridiculously inflated rates. When we pointed out the meter requirement, the self-appointed local boss smugly countered, “I control this area, no meter.”
When Thomas pulled out his camera to take a picture of the statement on the taxi door, the man knocked his camera into the street. When I turned to go get a police officer, the man punched me in the back of the head and knocked me into the street as well. (Ouch.)
Loaded down with giant backpacks and daypacks, we awkwardly fled the scene and ran into a nearby mall where we asked locals in a coffee house to call the police. Nobody budged. We went to the coffee house owners and asked them to call. No luck. Everyone refused to make the call. Clearly, everyone perceived the police as an even greater threat than the taxi mafia.
Yeah, what were we thinking? Picture of the taxi door? Call the police? Dumb.
The glass towers, designer supermalls, mega-cinemas and trendy restaurants can lull you into the illusion that a country has standards. That illusion can prove dangerous if you forget for a moment where you are and what counts as “normal”. Perhaps this time, after a solid punch to the head, we’ll finally learn that lesson.