Videos of warbling passengers have been viewed millions of times by Tu Ching Liang
As disco lights bounce off the medical mask on his forehead, Tu Ching Liang modifies his yellow novelty hat and speeds up his cab.
No one is as lucky as me,”No one is as lucky as me, who goes out the door every day to rush to work and make no money,”who goes out the door every day to rush to work and not make any money.
In central Taipei, it’s a cold day. People have been worn down by three weeks of almost constant rain, and they splash sullenly through shallow puddles, battling the wind with their umbrellas.
But inside Tu’s yellow cab – identifiable by a pink neon star on the dashboard from the outside – it’s warm and we can hear Despacito happily warbling from a previous passenger.
You can find karaoke pretty much anywhere in a city that loves to sing, including in multiple cabs. In addition to “karaoke” or “English-speaking driver” the local cab app also has “wheelchair accessible.” as an option.
Move away from the sidewalk and into a car, and at the ready to play YouTube clips of any song imaginable with lyrics, you can find a microphone thrust into your hand and an iPad.
But Tu, 57, tells you that he is a famous man.
For 27 years, I have been driving a taxi, giving money [as a reward for singing karaoke]for 8 years, and making videos for 6 years.
I have 10,000 videos filmed,’ he says.
“I’ve been on TV shows from 10 different countries.”
Getting into Tu’s cab means entering into a contract.
Sing for a chauffeur for you.
You don’t get a discount if you don’t sing, and you can’t win prizes or record an interview with the Guardian…
I’m panicking and I can’t think of an album, so Tu picks me up and it’s a punishment for me: Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”
Tu says a lot of people are too afraid to sing, but anyway, he drives them. To train them to be a superstar,”It’s to train their courage. To train them to be a superstar,”is to train their courage.
He only offers the heads-up periodically that the speakers are on the outside of the car and turned up high.
If Tu likes the success of a singer, he offers him a discount on the bus, a cash prize occasionally. People usually tip him for more than what the fare would have been.
What began almost a decade ago as a game where passengers earned a discount if they could guess a song title has become a sort of social media empire.
Cameras in Tu’s car catch every performance that he uploads to YouTube – the nice, the bad, the shy, the intoxicated.
Some of them have been downloaded over 2 million times.
I’m an international influencer,”I’m an international influencer,”
Tu scrolls through some of his most popular and famous, as we travel through the eastern boroughs in search of passengers. After his karaoke cab success, he claims to have discovered the singing career of Edward Chen, a Taiwanese actor and heartthrob who Tu says (with some creative license) landed a recording contract.
People pay for going to concerts and seeing people singing, but they pay me for singing here,”People pay to go to concerts and see people sing, but here they pay me to sing,” His hope is to have Ed Sheeran as a passenger someday.
In front of a pub, the car pulls up and Tu pulls the microphone out. Would anyone like to be on TV? Anyone? You should get into the British media.
Is that what you want? Are you able to sing?
It’s mid afternoon and there aren’t any takers here. “People are braver at night,” he says.
In these days of pandemic, life in Taipei is comparatively normal by international standards – until last month, there hadn’t been a locally transmitted case since April – but there are no tourists because of border restrictions. Tu says it hasn’t affected him too much, even with competitors driving around, and he relies mostly on local business.
“Taiwanese people love singing,” he says. “So it’s normal that there are a lot of [cabs with karaoke].
But it’s difficult to both film and sing like I do.
And the police can fine me for the speakers outside. That’s difficult, too.”
At the end of the day, Tu agrees not to put my murder of Titanic song on the Internet, but he can’t help a last laugh, and as he drives away, the recording booms through the cab’s outside speakers.
Maybe it’s the weather-induced dejection, or maybe everyone is just used to seeing Tu in traffic, but fortunately no one seems to notice.
Additional reporting by Pei Lin Wu.