From teacher to Hong Kong cabbie, a journey into the city’s soul
Franco Cheung has learned a lot about the human heart since quitting his job at a tutorial centre to work the night shift as a taxi driver
After Franco Cheung quit his well-paid job as a Chinese teacher at a tutorial centre a year and a half ago, he embarked on an unusual journey – as a taxi driver.
The rather unconventional career decision for a university degree holder allowed him to sample the various life stories of his passengers during his work on the night shift.
Tales of family feuds, crooked business deals, love affairs and lonely souls, formed chapters in his memory.
Cheung said many customers opened up during their brief encounter inside the cab. “People often behave like the cabbies do not exist. They treat the inside of a taxi as private space.”
He became a popular internet writer by sharing such anecdotes on a Facebook page, which has attracted more than 13,000 likes.
Launching his book Stories in this Taxi at this year’s Hong Kong Book Fair, the 30-year-old said passengers often let their guard down once inside the taxi and freely talked of family affairs, gossip about colleagues, work complaints, even conspiring to commit a crime.
He once picked up several family members at a funeral parlour and they immediately started a heated debate on how to divide the inheritance of the deceased. Another time, two people in suits were discussing ways to lie to their business partners.
“It makes me realise how extreme people’s behaviour and views could be in a private space,” Cheung said. “At the beginning, I felt awkward. But now, I’ll just consider it as though I was watching a play.”
Sometimes, with a miserable soul in the back seat, he would turn counsellor. A woman passenger once asked him whether she should speak up and tell a man if she liked him.
Working overnight, he also got to see the reality of life for people who toiled late into the night.
“There are many professionals in Central who get off work after 1am. They would sag onto the seat like a corpse,” he said.
Love affairs were a constant theme of the taxi business after midnight, he recalled, with autumn the most popular season.
“I thought these things happened only on TV, but they are actually much more common than I had imagined.”
Cheung said his experiences as a cabbie had made him a more empathetic person and he now refused to judge people or take things for granted. Take speeding drivers. Cheung said he often had to take people to hospital in a hurry so they could see loved ones for the last time.
“It happens quite often to taxi drivers. If I see a car flying on the road, I won’t blame the driver without thinking. He might have no choice.”