Thursday, October 18, 2012

Are the Contents of our luggage ever Safe even with TSA locks?

It had been a mad mad rush and crazy morning, departing from Seattle to Los Angeles. We were lucky to even made it to the flight given all the factors that have gone wrong.

Firstly, we got our departure time wrong. Instead of 6:30am, we thought that we have to arrive at the airport at 6:30am. My wife only found around 3:00 am when she got up and having 5 big bags to pack, results of our shopping spree for winter clothing in preparation for the cold winter in Beijing when we get there, the word "stress" is not even close to describe the panic I am sure she was feeling then.

When we finally get all the bags packed and Ryan to wake up at 5:00am, we found out that we could not get all the bags into one taxi and had to call two separate cabs. We were fortunate that there were two cabs waiting at the hotel at the point in time and hence, no time wasted to hail another one from the streets.

While they sped towards the airport, upon arrival, we found out after waiting in line for about 20 minutes that we were at the wrong terminal! Although the ticket stated that it was American Airlines, this particular flight was in fact operated by Alaskan Airlines and the terminal is a good 500 meters away and we have only 30 minutes before flight time.

I honestly thought, at that point, we would be missing our flight and resigned to that fact that we would have to pay for another one later. I seriously cannot think of how I could move 5 pieces of 29" bags, one 25" bag and two cabin bags with Ryan, to run 500 meters to the next terminal.

But God was on our side. Just as all hope was lost, a man appeared with a huge trolley and asked us if we needed help. "OF COURSE I NEEDED HELP AND I NEEDED HELP NOW!" While my wife took Ryan and half ran to the next terminal to check in, I frantically help him to load up the bags before running down the terminal myself.

And miraculously, we made it with 15 minutes or so to spare.

Upon arrival at Los Angeles International Airport, one of my 29" bags was missing. Upon checking with the counter staff, I was told that one piece of our luggage has been `randomly' selected by TSA for inspection and was unable to make it on the same flight. It would be delivered to our hotel later that day. We felt uneasy because we have some new expensive stuff in that bag.
When we finally got our bag the same afternoon, we found the bag with our brand new TSA lock missing. Inside was a note informing us that our bag has been opened for inspection and that TSA will not be responsible for damages to the lock should they need to break the lock to enable the inspection. We also found later that a new GUESS handbag stuffed with some branded children clothing were missing as well. And this is the SECOND time, we have this incident happening to us in Los Angeles. A couple of years back when we came back from LA, one of our bags was also opened and stuff were missing.

So, the question then is, who was and should be responsible for the loss?

If we were informed that we need to have TSA locks to enable TSA to unlock the bags for inspection without breaking them, why were the bags not locked back after the inspection? Why were the locks not put back in place?

Without the bags being re-locked after inspection, who then should be responsible for the loss of the contents of these `opened for inspection' luggage? Who could have taken the items? TSA or the ground crew of the airports or anyone who have access to the luggage before we do.

To make matters even worst, what if illegal drugs and materials have been inserted into these `opened for inspection' luggage with our knowledge and we be held liable for them when we get caught? So, once a bag has been randomly selected for inspection and left unlock by TSA, who should be responsible from this point forward for the contents of the luggage?

Why lock the luggage in the first place if the bags could be easily be subjected to random inspection by TSA who disclaim all liabilities after their inspection?

It is funny that this seemed to be happening to flights to USA and not the rest of the world (as far as my experience goes thus far)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Worst taxi Drivers?

At the time when I read that Malaysian taxi drivers were rated one of the worst in the world, I have just came back from taking an approximately 30 minutes taxi ride from Bellevue in Seattle to downtown Pikes Market which cost me USD39 besides the USD5 tips that I have to pay, which means that my 30 minutes ride cost me a cool RM136.50 at today's exchange rate of 3.104. I barely spent 2 hours at the Pikes Fish Market before I had to go back to the hotel with Ryan whining about being tired and sleepy. Hence, my 2 hours escapade cost me a whopping RM273!

So, before we start to jump blaming our Malaysian taxi drivers and pointing fingers that the report is true and they deserve what they deserves, I believe that we should look at the `so called' poll and report and the results objectively before we judged.
I have the privilege to travel quite a fair bit recently, and taking taxis in some of this countries that I have visited and the experience related to this group of people and their occupation.

I must said that I do agreed that we simply do not have the best taxi drivers in the world but I am not quite sure if they deserved being called the WORST!

Firstly, the report was apparently highlighted by ( who in a previous post, also highlighted that they have been voted to be he BEST taxis in the world for 3 years consecutively. Londoncabs is the company providing the black cabs in London which is also reputed to be the MOST expensive cabs in THE WORLD!

This poll and report was apparently conducted by ( and was done for the year 2011. According to this survey, which was conducted between July 31 to August 20, 2011 with only 4,821 respondents across 23 countries such as SINGAPORE, UK, BRAZIL, ARGENTINA, JAPAN, SWEDEN, GERMANY, AUSTRALIA SWITZERLAND IRELAND INDIA SPAIN, CHINA, FRANCE, ITALY, DENMARK, NORWAY, THE NETHERLANDS, HONG KONG, KOREA, MEXICO FINLAND and USA.

Surprisingly, I find the percentage between that reported by and the one reported by londoncabs differs slightly. While only 28% were reported for London by, reported a staggering 33% while New York which received only 9% from, were reported at 17% by Most Asian countries were left out from the list reported by with the exception of Bangkok and even that the percentage was much lower at only 3% as compared to the 6% reported by

Other Asian countries such as Hong Kong and Tokyo, both at 7% and Singapore at 6% were surprisingly omitted.

I honestly find the discrepancies disturbing and the sampling size, alarming small considering that the countries polled cover well over 23 countries. No reference were made as to the nationality, race and background of the respondents, hence making this poll, in my opinion, rather unrepresentative of the actual quality of service of the taxis services around the world.

But then again, it does not take a genius either to know that our taxi service quality and system requires a in-depth look and reinvention in order to elevate it to a standard that we could honestly be proud of.

I have yet to visit London nor have I taken the iconic black cab here but based on the countries that I have the privilege to interact with the taxi drivers, I must said that I would disagree with the poll somewhat.

Here's my take of my experience with this group of `wonderful' people:-

We have yet to encounter one single rude taxi driver here from the numerous visits we made to the republic. Most of them were well mannered, English speaking and got us to where we wanted to go without a hassle. Hence, I am rather surprised that they do not make it to the top ten list in the poll conducted by

We have always heard numerous nightmare stories of how unethical and cunning Chinese are. I must confessed that I have lots of apprehension taking taxis there when I first visited Beijing but after a couple more visits (especially now that we would be relocating there by the end of this month), the taxi drivers in Beijing are actually a friendly lot. To me, most of them do look alike with their crude cut hair style and looked rather grumpy. But once, you are able to strike up a conversation with them in their language, they can be rather talkative and you might just be able to invoke a friendly smile across their face. We have yet to encounter one who do not follow the meter nor taken us `around' the city just to get a few dollars more. In fact, we find taking taxis in Beijing to be rather affordable. A 30 minutes ride that I took from Westin Hotel to Temple of Heaven in the morning heavy traffic only cost me RMB30 or RM15! And he was telling me, how he enjoyed visiting Genting Highlands and how beautiful Malaysia is. And an interesting point to note was that we were told that only residents of Beijing can be a taxi driver in Beijing.

There was even one instance when my wife was taking a cab in Xian from the airport to her hotel and apparently there are two such hotels and they ended up at the wrong one. The cab driver was not only NOT angry for getting to the wrong one because my wife was not specific enough (honestly, even she did not know that there were two), but he gladly took her to the right one and gave her a discount from the fare charged from meter because he said that it was partly his fault too for not finding out properly.

New York USA
My first impression of New York was tarnished by the black driver of the famous yellow cab. His careless driving (probably that's how they all drive in New York traffic) and his arrogance throughout the journey irritated us so much that we actually gave him just at USD5 tip, which of course drew further curses from him as he shouted to other cab drivers at the hotel lobby, something to the effect of "bloody Asians!"  And we have reporting that New York has the second highest rating of over 17%!

Atlanta USA
The driver who claimed he was from Pakistan gave us quite a fright when he took us through some pretty shady black neighborhood from the airport to downtown Peachtree Street in Atlanta in order to avoid the freeway. Although he was using the meter, he was "fxxking" at every turn and every corner and at every driver on the road besides busy chatting on his handphone.

San Francisco USA
Our worst experience was on our first night at San Francisco after our dinner at Pier 39. There were absolutely no taxis in sight at the taxi stand at around 11pm and there we were, along with 20 other people or so, standing there in freezing temperature, waiting. What came along was a string of limousines that offered to pick us up but for USD30 per person for a 15 minute ride. We were adamant that we would not subject ourselves to this `daylight' robbery and continue waiting for another good 20 minutes before the taxis began to arrive one after another.

Our taxi driver was a 65 years old man from Hong Kong who has been driving the San Francisco streets for well over 30 years. He was chatty and nice and the fare, only a fraction of what the limousine drivers were charging. Our next experience was a driver who tore through the hilly streets of San Francisco in the middle of the night like he was in a rally race, complaining that tourists are bad because they either walked or rent their own car instead of taking a taxi ride. Considering that renting a Ford Mustang only cost me slightly over USD90 plus insurance in Los Angeles, I can understand why.

Seattle USA
The taxi drivers in Seattle were a friendly lot, most of them either from Somalia or Ethiopia, many  having settled down with families and driving taxis for well over 6 to 10 years. Our encounters with them have all been pleasant ones though the taxi fare here is everything BUT cheap! As I shared earlier, a 30 minutes ride downtown cost USD39 before tips!

Los Angeles USA
Our ride from the Los Angeles International airport to Anaheim where Disneyland was located, a trip of approximately 30 minutes turned out to last longer than 45 minutes when the driver got lost and refused to listen to me even when I told him that the Fairfield Inn by Marriott was just across the Disneyland main entrance! (Which idiot who drive a taxi in LA would not know where Disneyland is and he even has a GPS in the car). The cost of the journey turned up to cost us USD140 (RM434)! On our return trip from the hotel to the airport, we engaged another company who provided us a minivan to cater for our six huge bags and the journey which took just well over 30 minutes only cost us USD93 (according to the meter).  Our USD7 tip made this Mexican who has been driving a taxi here for the last 6 years a very happy man.

Looking back at our experiences with different taxi drivers from the different cities that we have visited, we could only conclude the following:-

  • Taking a taxi (apart from Beijing) is an expensive affair and tipping especially in US is almost an unwritten law. In fact, some are even expecting a tip as high as between 10% to 15%. A 30 minutes ride in Seattle could easily sets you back RM140 or in the case of LA, over RM300!
 Taking a taxi in Malaysia is expensive to most of us who live in the country but no where near to what we would have to pay for similar services overseas.

Therefore, I would not want to compare the iconic black cabs of London for example to the those in Beijing or even in Malaysia, where their charges are rated as the most expensive in the world. Now, if you are paying for those similar rates back home in Malaysia, I am quite certain that you would probably be renting a limousine with premier services and I am sure certain that you will be served like a king.

Calling for our taxi drivers to improve their services and to avoid using unethical ways to fleece their customer, I believe is not just a matter of weeks or months, or by merely giving out handouts to win votes just before a coming election. It involves an in depth look at the entire licensing and fare system to ensure that taxi drivers can make a decent honest living without having to resort to unethical methods to make ends meet. Other modes of public transportation has to be put in order and accessible to the general public at large.

Kudos to our reporter who went out disguised as a tourist to ascertain how true the report was on our taxi drivers, which came as nothing new to most of us. Now, I would like to see a reporter disguised as an honest taxi driver taking over the wheel for a day and see if you could survive, playing by the rule.

Dishonest, unethical or rude taxi drivers goes beyond just a few individuals if the system is flawed in the first place. The government and the governing body should bear the responsibility of what the system has became.

Do we then increase our taxi fare to those similar to those of the black iconic black cabs of London and imposed strict entry education and test before a taxi driver is qualified to even sit behind a wheel in order to elevate our standard to that apparently rated as the best by Or do we imposed tipping as an additional incentive to encourage better service? Or do we do what the China government has apparently did just before the Olympics, making sure that taxis are clean and and taxi drivers do take their bath and maintain their personal hygiene and taking all necessary steps to enforce that and see it to past.

Is it really that simple problem to tackle and solve?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

USA California : My very FIRST rented Car!

I got my driving license when I was 17 and in all these years that I have driven, it has always been right hand drive. Even when I was holidaying overseas, I was only comfortable driving in countries which is also right hand drive like Australia. 

Although I have been to USA a couple of times now, it's either I was driven around even we rented a car or I would take public transportation or simply just hop on one of their hop on and off buses which by the way is an excellent way to discover the many top tourist attractions around.

With our move to Beijing imminent in just one month, and with China being a country where cars are left hand driven, I am apprehensive and worried as to whether I could adapt to the sudden change or simply go into the wrong lane all the time.. I remembered that I constantly walk to the driver side when I was taking a taxi in Europe.

So, when the recent trip to LA presents the need to drive to San Diego approximately 2 hours away to visit Sea world where renting a car and driving there ourselves seemed like the best and most economical option, I brave myself to immerse into the unknown of driving a left hand driven car for the very first time.

We gave Avis a call since we have corporate rate with them and were told to drop by to select our model. Prior to that I have called and were recommended the economical Ford Focus. I was bracing myself to be either driving a Ford Focus or a Hyundai Accent or similar models. 

When we arrived at the Avis showroom, parked just outside, was a glimmering bright red 2 door Ford Mustang convertible and behind her two shining dark blue 2 doors mustangs. They looked so so so cool! I know for a fact that they do made heads turn when they are on the road. I know mine did everytime I see one.

My wife was teasing me as we walked past these beauties and said "I know you would love to rent this." Well, what can I  say. She knows me too well. After all she is my better half. 

The counter staff attended to us and we wold him exactly what we wanted, an economical model for 3 and we were slapped with the bad news! The Focus we were enquiring has been taken and they have no similar models available right that moment. But the next sentence, took my breath away.

"What we have right now and for the same price are the Ford Mustangs ..." 

In my mind, I was like "Are you kidding me? Really? I'll take that! Where do I sign?"

"But is it big enough for us?" my wife had to ask. "Can it take a 29" luggage? Dear, you better go and check first."

I walked to the car fearing the worst. I pop the boot open. "Yes! yes!" I screamed inside me. The boot space is deep enough!

20 minutes later, after all the necessary paperwork was done, I was behind the wheels of my first left hand drive 2 door six cylinders shiny dark blue sleek wide body road hugging Ford Mustang, rearing to tear the road of LA and the freeways of USA.

My first experience driving a left hand drive vehicle turned out better than I expected, much much better I must said.