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Cross talk: Should Beijing taxi drivers stop eating garlic and onions during the Games?
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12:57, January 05, 2008

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No Shi Xiangpeng, a political consultant from Hong Kong, raised the issue last March, saying one-third of the taxi drivers he had hailed here stank of garlic. I believe Shi's ratio is right but his concerns are misguided.

Whenever I ride alongside a passenger who pinches their nose at a driver, in addition to feeling mortally embarrassed, I think of Wang Lung from Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth. The farmer in the novel, who made a clean break his dirt-poor upbringing, had been dining on fine foods to impress his mistress, Lotus He soon became fed up with how phony-baloney his luxuriant lifestyle had become, and there was only one thing he could do about it: Eat garlic. He told Lotus: "'Now you see that your lord is but a farmer and you a farmer's wife'!"

We should recognize that the cabbies are our drivers, and we are but their passengers. And like Wang, they should "eat of what they like", and we should "bear it". They already bear plenty. Life is a rough ride for cabbies, who work long hours for little pay. Most will tell you, they aren't working their dream job, but it puts food on the table - including those garlic- and onion-rich meals. Who are we to demand they forgo the simple pleasure of a delicious dish? Most who can afford to take cabs enjoy plenty of simple pleasures, in addition to several not-so-simple ones.

And so, even though we pay a fee for our transport, we should be more willing to consider ourselves guests in their passenger seats - that would be a real breath of fresh air for the capital's cabbies.

Yes The confined space of a car is easily filled with the smell of food during the broiling months of summer when air-conditioners only diffuse the pong. I believe this is a particularly pressing issue for the capital's affable chauffeurs ahead of the Olympic Games.

They will be at the coalface of first impressions and it would be such a terrible shame if their affable natures were eclipsed by their repugnant post-meal breath in the memories of visitors. Making small sacrifices is key to hosting a successful Olympics. During the Sydney Games, many locals like myself left the city to ease the burden on its infrastructure or were confined to certain lines on the road to allow official cars to drive freely between venues.

When I drove a taxi as an undergraduate university student, first and foremost on my mind was my passengers' comfort.

The fellow who owned the cab always stressed the importance of having fresh odorizers in the car just to ensure a comfortable trip for customers. But considering the massive chunks of garlic Chinese people like to eat, not even an industrial strength odorizer could do the job.

Under the code of conduct for operating a taxi, cabbies are supposed to brush their teeth after eating garlic, be polite, don't smoke while driving and clean up their vehicles. As far as I can see, drivers are observing all of the above, except for the first.

So if the Chinese palate is so utterly dependent on such spicy and odorous fare, I hope cabbies will carry a tooth brush around with them in August or at least keep a ready supply of breath-mints.

Source: China Daily

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