Sydney: Fantastic Tales of a Former Burmese Boy Soldier (Part 1)

BY HLA OO
Apr 27, 2011

Violence, drugs and weapons. Life in Down Under's glitziest city may not be that different from that in the jungles of Burma.

After Jason’s death I left the workshop and managed to get a proper engineering job as the production supervisor for an engineering company in the suburb of Bankstown in Western Sydney.

Job was interesting but the pay of 30K a year was not that good. That might be the reason I got the job. Aussie graduate engineers wouldn’t take that low a pay. And since I needed to save money for the substantial deposit for a house, I started driving taxis on Sydney streets on the weekends.

 

Sydney Cabbie

656 Sydney cabs (Photo credit: Kyota)

 

One of the Lebanese servicemen back in the workshop also worked as a night cabbie and he showed me the way to get a cab authority from the New South Wales Ministry of Transport. I had to attend a taxi school and take a test for using the Sydney Street Directory and another driving test in a hired-cab.

For an old jungle soldier like me, reading the street directory of the large concrete jungle called Sydney was just too easy. I do not even need a compass.

And the cabbies earn raw hard cash every shift they work.

So within two years from landing on Sydney shores I managed to save A$10,000 for a deposit for a A$120,000 house and got myself a three-bedroom, brick-veneer home in the affordable suburb of Campbelltown about 50 km south-west of Sydney.

Now the serious problem I had was with the heavy mortgage of over A$100,000 from the NSW government sponsored Home Fund. Since we were recent migrants, we didn’t have a long history of regular savings. So all the banks refused to lend us and the Home Fund with a fixed interest rate of 17.5% and a short loan term of 13 years was the only option for us.

But the ballooning monthly interest payments of nearly A$2,000 was becoming a major pressure on me and I ended up driving cabs more just to pay the bills for our growing family. Driving more night shifts also meant I was taking more risks of physical danger as the night taxi driving is the most dangerous job in Sydney then and still probably so.

At least five Sydney cabbies are killed every year and the taxi drivers are the only profession in Australia with the impressive crime statistics of all 100% of them being the victims of crime. Most cabbies are also the migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds and many became the victims of vicious race-hate attacks.

I had seen worst violence back home in the jungles of Burma but I still carried a sharpened and blackened carbine bayonet under my seat.

I wasn’t that concerned about my safety as I had seen worst violence back home in the jungles of Burma but I still carried a sharpened and blackened carbine bayonet under my seat.

Sometimes drunken men in my cab asked me if I was scared driving cabs at night, I replied to them that if they knew what I did back home they should be scared of me instead. Once I made a mistake of telling a priest, who’d been with the Karen refugees on the Thai border, I was an ex-soldier in Burmese army and he asked me to stop the cab and got out. The violent reputation of brute Burmese army was well known even before the last Rambo movie.

I thought I was brave and quiet scary till I picked up a group of Lebanese thugs at the Darling Harbour late one night.

 

Gangsters

It was a busy Saturday night. After dropping a fare at Pyrmont I hit the waterfront at the Darling Harbour, expecting many people from the harbour cruises waiting for cabs. I was right and as I was easing my white cab near a crowd, a young Middle Eastern-looking man ran up and opened the rear cab door.

Keep going mate, we’re picking three more. So I went and picked up three more young men down the road. I wasn’t happy at all as here in Sydney these guys are widely feared. Cabs don’t normally stop for them. According to the criminal profiling of attacks against cabbies in Sydney, a group of three or more young men of Middle-Eastern or Pacific-Islander descent are the typical offenders.

Two jumped into the back and one got in beside me. There I saw a Glock in his belt as he was trying to ease himself on the seat. A shiver went up my spine but I tried to hide my fear. Like the gun-shy dogs from a war-ravaged Kachin village, a gun could trigger the deep-seated fear in a man well used to the dangerous power of a gun.

We kill people ripping us off.

But he noticed it. But he ignored it with a tense face on. Long trip mate, first to Belmore then Lakemba, then Punchbowl. I’m coming back to city too. Is it okay? He asked and I said yes and headed for the Parramatta Road. The threes behind me started speaking in Arabic or whatever their tongue was. The gunman beside me just sat quiet.

Where the fuck you’re heading, cabbie? Why are we on this fucking Parramatta Road? We should be on Canterbury. The guy directly behind me busted out. Are you going long way? We kill people ripping us off. He even fisted the back of my seat.

I’m heading for Crystal Street, just down there, then we’ll be on New Canterbury, I tried to calm him down. Is he going right way, Michael? He asked the guy at the front and Michael said, he’s cool, just shut up Jamal.

Hey cabbie, you know we are from Hezbollah, are you scared now? Drunk Jamal wouldn’t shut up. Hisbola, what’s that, I played dumb even though I knew the Hezbollah and the Lebanese civil war. Shut up Jamal, Michael yelled out loud and what Jamal did was a shocker. He was angry for reason unknown but he took it out on me the innocent cabbie.

He wound down the window, yanked out the headrest of my seat and threw it out. He was big and strong and he did it so fast I didn’t noticed the headrest was gone. Only later I realized what just happened and I immediately knew I was in a mortal danger now.

First I was thinking of pressing the alarm button under the dashboard by my right knee. The alarm is directly connected to the network control room via radio and once it is activated the operator will immediately called the nearest cops with the exact location of the cab. But with four Lebanese gunmen in my cab, I hesitated to press the button remembering what had happened to an old Aussie woman cabbie just a month or two ago.

 

Part 2 continues here