The Woman Taxi Driver
02 Nov 2005
The other day I got in a taxi to discover that my driver was a pleasant middle-aged woman. Female taxi drivers are not exceedingly rare in Shanghai, but they’re not common, either. I was feeling gregarious, so I started chatting her up. (That’s one of the things I love about China… barring language barriers or extreme psychological blocks, foreigners can talk to pretty much any Chinese person about anything, and that person will be happy to respond.)
First I asked her a linguistic question: “Can I call a female taxi driver 师傅?” (I was pretty sure I could, but I still get a very male feeling from the word, so I wanted to confirm.)
“Sure,” she said. “Why not?”
With that warm-up out of the way, I got right down to it: “As a woman taxi driver, what challanges or difficulties do you face on the job?” I imagined all kinds of responses… getting ribbed (or mocked) by male taxi drivers, getting rejected by passengers who don’t want a woman driver, etc. It turns out my speculations were all a little silly, I guess.
Her reply: “The only thing that makes it any harder for a woman taxi driver is that it can be hard to find a bathroom when I have to go.”
Wow. My guesses were a bit off the mark. Disappointed by the near complete lack of social insight her frank answer provided me, I decided to try again.
“Compared to other Chinese cities, are there more female drivers in Shanghai?” Shanghai is arguably the most modern city in mainland China, so you might expect women in Shanghai to have gotten into more jobs traditionally held by men.
“There are fewer female drivers in Shanghai than other places,” she told me. Then I thought about that. I thought about some of the other cities I’d been to in my travels. Thinking it over, I realzied that even in my own limited experience I could remember seeing more female taxi drivers in other places such as Shandong, for instance. I also realized that considering how so many Shanghainese girls just want to act like princesses, they’re probably not eager to take on jobs like cab driving. Being “modern” by no means need include “socially progressive.”
Then she continued: “Female taxi drivers usually take day shifts, though, because it’s not safe for them to drive the night shift.” I reflected on that.
Sensing that I was out of questions, she looked at me with that gleam in her eye that I knew so well. Then I proceeded to dutifully answer her questions about where I’m from, how long I’ve lived in China, how old I am, what my job is, how much I make per month, if I have a girlfriend, where my girlfriend is from, and if I like Chinese food.
I think I lost. I should have had more and better questions.