Tag: taxis


23

Apr 2007

Taxi Drivers Like to Read

Have you ever noticed the effect of a piece of paper in your hand when you take a taxi?

If you jump in a taxi empty-handed, the driver will turn around and ask you where you’re going, listen attentively, perhaps ask a question or two to clarify, and then you’re off.

If you have a little piece of paper in your hand, however, it’s a different story. No matter how clearly you tell the driver your destination, he will fixate on that piece of paper. Unless it’s a really simple destination like “the Pudong airport,” he will likely ignore whatever you’re saying and insist on seeing that paper. The written address trumps anything that might come out of your mouth. Just shut up and give him the piece of paper with the address.

I can certainly understand how the drivers would be conditioned this way. Seeing the address clears up ambiguities — both the ones resulting from homophones as well as the ones borne of less-than-perfect foreigner pronunciation. It just feels funny, though, that the driver seems to not trust me to know my own destination, insisting on seeing the paper, when I’m the one that wrote down the address on the paper five minutes before leaving home.


01

Jan 2007

The One-kuai Roll

The starting fare for taxis in Shanghai is 11 RMB, or, as the locals say, 11 kuai. This amount increases as a function of both distance traveled and time. This is all well and good.

What is not well and good, however, is a trick the taxi drivers frequently pull which I will dub “the one-kuai roll.” The typical one-kuai roll scenario is something like this:

> Scene: in a taxi on the streets of Shanghai, in light traffic.

> You: OK, this is good. Stop here.

> Driver: What? Here? [taxi slows down but continues moving forward]

> You: Yes, Here! Here! [taxi still moving forward]

> Driver: OK, I’m stopping. [taxi still moving forward]

> You: Stop! Stop! [taxi still moving forward]

> [Just as the taxi finally rolls to a stop, the fare increases by one kuai.]

> Driver: That’ll be 21 RMB, please.

> You: D’oh!

That’s the one-kuai roll: a sly move to bump the fare up by just one more RMB. It seems like almost all the drivers do it. It’s only one kuai ($0.12), but man, it’s annoying.


08

Nov 2006

A New Advertising Low?

There are so many ads for cosmetic surgery in Shanghai taxis these days. Ken reports this grim discovery:

> Now, it can be annoying when you’re sitting in a taxi and you cannot turn off the TV screen 18 inches from your face, but I can live with it. However, what I saw in the taxi today today was perhaps a new low. There was a print ad, mounted on the back of the head rest in front of me, advertising a plastic surgery clinic that obviously churns out operations. Part of the ad was a reflective plastic thing (it looked like tin foil) in the shape of a mirror that invited you to look into it and consider if you didn’t need to do something about your looks. (I answered in the affirmative.)

> So there you are stuck in traffic, on a Monday morning for an hour and all you see is your own, crumpled, ugly mug looking back at you with, a doctor holding a scalpel smiling at you. (I wept profusely.) I almost told the taxi driver to head over to the clinic and get it done before lunch.

Yikes.


02

Nov 2005

The Woman Taxi Driver

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.


12

Sep 2005

Taxis and Rain

Yesterday as I rode in a taxi through Xujiahui I was glad that I was not one of the many people trying in vain to hail a cab. It can be extremely hard to find a taxi when it rains. Sometimes it’s completely impossible.

A thought struck me, so I asked the driver:

> Me: Master*, do you like rainy days better or non-rainy days better? On rainy days you get more business, right?

> Driver: With traffic like this, the rain doesn’t do that much for business. I can only get a few fares anyway, with all the traffic I have to sit in.

> Me: Well what about rainy days when the traffic isn’t bad?

> Driver: The traffic’s bad even when it doesn’t rain. When it rains it’s even worse.

> Me: Well what about late at night when it rains?

> Driver: Yeah, I guess business is a little better than usual then.

> * In China, drivers (and many other blue collar workers) are addressed as shifu, which is the same way students address their kung fu masters. I always get a little kick out of calling a taxi driver or a plumber a word that can be translated as “master.”

The typhoon is upon us here in Shanghai. What an auspicious sign for my first week of classes. This week I don’t actually have my first class until Thursday, though.


08

Sep 2005

New Ireland

When I ride in taxis, the drivers frequently ask me if I’m American. I confirm it, of course. I guess I look very American. The “casual look” and all. When I met Todd here in Shanghai recently, his comment was that I was “even more American than [he] expected.”

Well, I yam what I yam.

The other day I had an audition for a commercial, and I was told to come somewhat dressed up. So I did. The cab driver asked me if I was British.

After learning I was American, he asked me if “New Ireland” was a city or a state. I asked him to repeat the name. Then I realized I had misunderstood. I was having my first Chinese conversation about the tragedy that is New Orleans (新奥尔良). It sure sounded a lot like “New Ireland” the first time I heard it.

Neither of us had much insight to offer.


07

Jul 2005

Talk Talk

Since I personally verify every blog that is added to the China Blog List, I see a lot of blogs. Unfortunately, I have very little time these days to read blogs, and I’m not really looking for new ones to add to my reading list. One that nevertheless caught my attention, though, was Talk Talk China. I especially like DD’s entries.

There are not a lot of entries up yet, but these are the ones I liked:

Language Rapists. Another variation of a familiar theme. Worth reading. It has a great closing line. (Here’s my version of this rant.)

No, You’re Not Really Tone Deaf. Sometimes I feel this way, but I’d never write something like this. …but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it when someone else does!

Beijing Cab Driver Excuses. Pretty funny. Read the comments… I found the comparison between Shanghai and Beijing cabbies to be kinda interesting.


25

Dec 2002

Home for Christmas, finally (part 1)

My Christmas this year has been an event partially shrouded in mystery since the summer. It was then that the idea to surprise my whole family with a Christmas visit home began to formulate.

Saturday, December 21st. I had meant to get on a bus to Shanghai as early as 3pm, but it wasn’t until 5:30pm that I finally make it out the door. I have been buying lots of Christmas presents and otherwise just preparing for my two weeks’ absence from school. Wilson graciously offered to cover my classes. He had the good idea of combining all our classes and throwing them in a multimedia room at night for those 2 weeks. So all I had to do was plan the content and put it into a wonderful PowerPoint presentation, which was then burned onto a CD and left in Wilson’s hand the day I left.

So I step out the door at around 5:30pm. It’s raining, as it has been for days. The shoes which I have purposely not been wearing for the past 2 days in order to make sure they’re dry for my trip home are wet within 10 minutes of stepping out the door, despite my umbrella. The guard on the ground floor of our building says this damn rain is going to continue for another 3-4 days, at least. All I can think is I’ll be home soon….

I get out to Zhoushan Dong Road just in time to miss a taxi. And then it’s 30 minutes of trudging through a gray, wet world, my rolling suitcase reluctantly trailing behind me on this misadventure. I timed it just wrong: 6pm is when taxi drivers get off their shifts, so around 5:30 the drivers are all heading back to the station and refuse to give anyone a ride, even if the car is empty and the “vacant” light is on. It’s almost impossible to get a taxi at this time of day, but I was standing out in the rain with a heavy suitcase full of gifts and a backpack, and I was going home. Unfortunately, the taxi drivers don’t seem to realize this. Empty cab after empty cab whizzes right by my wet, frantically flailing figure, my furious curses unheard.

Eventually, someone does stop. For some reason, when drivers are getting off duty, they do this thing where they pick up a friend (?) before getting their last ride, and then drop off their friend on the way to your destination. It’s definitely not legit, but they all do it. After waiting 30 minutes in the rain, I wasn’t going to complain.

On the way to the bus station, there’s a traffic jam. All the huge construction trucks in Hangzhou seem to have congregated on the road we need to take to get to the East Bus Station. Our driver doesn’t seem to have much regard for our personal safety, or at least not for the structural integrity of his vehicle. Our windshield repeatedly comes scant inches from the lower end of the huge truck in front of us. Time wears on, and my driver quickly learns I am not in a chatty mood. I am beginning to wonder if there are still going to be buses to Shanghai by the time I get there.

So I finally arrive at the East Bus Station. I loathe that place. It’s hard to explain exactly why, but the scalpers that assail you before you’re even out of your taxi would definitely be high on the list. Shanghai, Shanghai! they yell in my face. The fact that I was actually bound for Shanghai makes them all the more annoying.

When I get to the ticket office, there is a small crowd outside, but no one inside. All the ticket windows are closed up. “They’re closed,” the scalpers gleefully announce, a grinning pack of vultures descending upon me. “Shanghai…”

Defeated, I begin reluctant negotiations with them, and 80rmb is the cheapest I’m hearing. I start following that offer, but as I trudge past the Shanghai-bound waiting room, on a whim I duck in to investigate. The girl at the front tells me I can still buy a ticket to Shanghai. I’m not getting her convoluted instructions to the last remaining open ticket window, so she kindly takes me there herself. I buy a legit 55rmb ticket to Shanghai that leaves in 10 minutes. I am ecstatic.

So I try to sleep on the bus to Shanghai, and to dry out my feet a little as well. Both efforts only meet with limited success. I am chagrined to notice that although the VCD being played is not showing up on the screens (evidently the video out isn’t working), the inane Chinese soap opera dialogue nonetheless spews on. Greeeeat….

I get to Shanghai and meet my friend. I had a good dinner. Get to see famous Hong Kong director Wong War-kai’s movie In the Mood for Love, and I gotta say, I am not impressed. Yeah, I can see the artsiness of the cinematography. I suppose it is cleverly filmed. But in my mind no movie can be forgiven for failing in its primary function: entertainment. This movie and its endless parade of qipao bores me.

Sunday, December 22nd. Probably partly due to In the Mood for Love, I fail in my effort to stay up all night. I do that so that I can be blissfully unconscious for the 20+ hour journey home to Tampa, Florida. I inadvertently get a few hours of sleep. These few hours almost make me late leaving for the airport. I leave in a rush.

My friend told me that I should ask for a 20% discount to the airport since it was so far. I was aware that in Shanghai you can sometimes negotiate cheaper taxi fares, but in my experience that only happens at night. So when I stop the first taxi I come across and tell him I want to go to the Pudong International Airport and I expect a 20% discount, the driver is a little surprised too. “In the daytime?” he says. “I’ll give you 10% off.”

“Never mind,” I say, and start walking.

A minute later my luggage and I are in the taxi. 20% off it is. It is 7:30am, and my flight leaves at 9:30am. It might be as much as an hour’s drive to the airport. I am a little nervous.


29

Oct 2002

Police, Schmolice

I don’t want to get stuck on the whole taxi thing, but I’ve got another little story. And it begins with me riding in a taxi. This time the driver was a woman.

Female taxi drivers are not so common. This driver, however, was top-notch. I mean that in the Chinese sense. When she takes you somewhere, she takes you in a hurry. That means not only serious speed, but also lots of passing and swerving — above all, not stopping. We saw three accidents on the way back to my school. Fortunately we weren’t involved in any.

We chatted on the way to East Zhou Shan Road. We passed a billboard which featured a woman who I thought was the famous Chinese Olympic diver Fu Mingxia. She thought it was too, at first, but then decided it wasn’t. We then started talking about the likelihood of Fu Mingxia participating in the next Olympics. My driver thought it pretty unlikely, since the pretty star is now married to a 50-something rich Hong Kong big shot. A child is probably in her near future, opined my driver. And after having a kid, your body will never be the same, she assured me. She went on to talk about her own 6-year-old son, and how he looooves to eat KFC.

We were close to the home stretch — the turn to East Zhou Shan Road was just ahead. Bearing down on us fast from the opposite direction was a big 4WD police vehicle. My driver made a bold turn directly into the path of the police car, forcing it to brake fast. It really was quite close. As we squeezed through the opening, I must have let out a gasp. Turning to me, she offered this explanation: “I’m trying to earn money here. They’re not doing anything — they can take their time.”

The police, of course, just continued on their way, not taking any more notice of the offending taxi than was required to avoid a collision. This is China.


25

Oct 2002

Taxi Tale Interpretation

Not long ago I got pissed off about a little episode involving a Chinese man and a taxi and I made a little entry about it.

I got one response on it from one John B. He’s a guy who taught in China for a short time, and I happened to get in contact with him through some really odd coincidences.

John B. suggested in his e-mail that “the ‘me first’ attitude comes from simple competition for resources. With 1.2 billion other folks to compete with to get everything, I guess you learn to take any opportunity you can get.”

That explanation makes sense, and I might accept it, were it not for my experiences in Japan. China may have the world’s largest population, but the population density of Japan is, for the most part, higher. I can’t quote any statistics on this, but I’ve lived extensively in both places now, and I can assure you that’s the case. So in Japan there should be higher competition for resources.

You might answer that China is poorer, whereas Japan is now a land of plenty (despite the current economic slump), which curbs the “me first” competitive drive in Japan. Recall, though, that after WWII Japan was a third world nation. China may be newer to modernity, but the pre-WWII generation is still around in Japan as well. Both societies have undergone monumental changes in the past 50 years, but China has come out of it seeming much less civil. Why?

My adult Chinese students at the English Department recently offered a compelling explanation. Since they are still young themselves, the students drew mainly upon anecdotes from their parents and grandparents to offer this explanation.

Before Communist China, China was at war. War with Japan, civil war, war with Western imperialism. It was chaos. Out of this chaos came Communist China. Early Communist China was actually Communist. It was communal. People cooperated. People shared. As the U.S. quaked in fear and rage at the global spread of Communism, Chinese people felt a national spirit of goodwill and just plain human goodness that surpassed anything that the nation had experienced in a long, long time. You might dismiss such warm fuzzy good feeling descriptions of early Communist China as propaganda, but I’ve heard a lot of stories. Regardless of certain realities (e.g. the failure of efforts such as the Great Leap Forward*), a lot of Chinese people felt really good. It was a golden time.

That era was followed by the Cultural Revolution*, of course. Cooperation, goodwill, and social progress were replaced by backstabbing, malice, and social disintegration as co-workers, friends, and even family members betrayed each other in the madness of the times. All sense of brotherhood was obliterated by the absolute necessity to look out for number one. One’s reputation, livelihood, or possibly even life depended on it.

The effects of the Cultural Revolution were profound. They linger. Furthermore, Capitalism has long since had its foot in the door, and the Party is looking the other way as the entire leg sexily slides its way in. I’m thinking Capitalist consumerism probably doesn’t help the situation either, right?

And so jerks steal my taxi in China.

They’re still not excused.

* This site on Chinese history, maintained by the Chaos Group at the University of Maryland, is cool because it contains the Chinese (traditional characters) for a lot of the important names and events mentioned.


01

Oct 2002

Taxi Incident

On Sunday Wilson and I made a little alcohol run to the Metro. The Metro is a big supermarket with lots of Western food and stuff. It’s one of the few places you can buy vodka in Hangzhou, and the prices are actually decent.

Anyway, we had to get our vodka and a few other goodies that are hard to find elsewhere (Hellmann’s mayonaise, French’s mustard, good bread, canned tuna…). But we were kind of in a hurry, because I was trying to get back to ZUCC to hear one of my students sing at a concert on campus. She has a really amazing voice.

The problem with the Metro is that it’s in the middle of nowhere, on the east edge of town. You have to take a taxi out there and back (unless you want to be on the bus for like an hour each way), and it’s not always easy finding a taxi back. (The other problem with the Metro is that the stingy bastards actually charge for plastic grocery bags! What’s up with that?! It’s not a normal Chinese practice.)

Anyway, we were holding our groceries, standing on the side of the road outside the inconveniently-located Metro, waiting for a cab.

5 minutes went by. A cab pulled up, and some guy further up the road from us flagged it down and got it. Was he there before us? Who knows. He got the cab.

5 more minutes went by. No cabs.

5 more minutes went by. Two guys in suits that looked to be in their thirties came from a sidestreet and stood a little further down the road from us.

5 more minutes went by. Another unoccupied cab finally appeared! Fortunately there was no one waiting further up the road to grab it this time. He approached our frantically waving figures. He kept rolling, coming to a stop by the two guys just past us, further down the road. One of the guys got in the front seat as quickly as he could.

I was pissed. I rushed over there, still holding my grocery bag in one hand and a Smirnoff Vodka bottle in the other. I got in front of the door so he couldn’t close it.

Get out,” I told him firmly, in Chinese. He stayed rooted to the seat, with the stubborn look of a kid who refuses to eat his brussel sprouts. “Get out!” I repeated, as he urged the driver to get moving. He wasn’t budging.

Meanwhile, Wilson was looking on, kind of stunned (hoping I wasn’t mad enough hit the guy with the vodka bottle, he told me later). The partner of the guy already in the cab, apparently made nervous by the tense situation, was making no move to get in the taxi.

My demand was falling on deaf ears, and the taxi finally took off, the door still open. I yelled something I probably shouldn’t have. It was English, but I’m sure he got it. The cab went about 100 meters down the road and stopped. The other guy went to go get in. Apparently angered by what I yelled, stubborn guy in the front seat pretended like he was going to get out and come fight me. I made the manly “bring it on!” gesture, and they promptly drove away.

It was all a ridiculous incident. I certainly wasn’t going to get in a fight over a taxi. It’s just too stupid. But underlying it all is an anger, not just at one guy in one particular incident, but at a whole society.

I’ve never been in a country like this, where people are so “me first!” crazy. There are no lines for buses, just a pushing hoarde. The other day in McDonalds, after I had already stood patiently in line for about 5 minutes, some woman suddenly pushed her way in from the side and placed her order right in front of me! I just stood there and let her. What am I going to do, change a society? It’s the same in banks and at ticket counters. I’ve been living with this every day for two years now.

But still, this incident was just too infuriating. I really believe that in the USA, there are few people who would quickly hop into the taxi instead of doing the civil thing and saying, “you were here first, you take it.” I think that in all the other countries I’ve been to — Japan, Mexico, Korea, Thailand — most people would do the same. What is it about this place that makes people so drivenly self-centered? Why does the concept of a “line” or of “waiting one’s turn” not seem to apply here?

I’ve heard people say China is not ready for democracy, and I think that idea has a lot of merit. China isn’t even ready for the concept of “wait your turn.”


27

Sep 2002

Taxi Driver Ideology

On the way back from that class, I had an interesting taxi driver. We were doing the typical cab chat (where I’m from, how long I’ve been here, etc.), when he asked what I thought of China. I said I thought it was great, and that it’s much more developed than most Americans realize. He liked hearing this kind of talk about China, and I added, “just think where China would be today if not for the Cultural Revolution.” After that he got kind of quiet, and I wondered if I had said something wrong. I didn’t worry about it too much, though. I was pretty tired, and if I had hurt his feelings somehow and killed the conversation, so be it.

Well, that little silence was the calm before the storm. He wasn’t mad or upset, he just had a lot to say on the subject after collecting his thoughts. And I do mean a lot. He started by saying that it was wrong to think that the Cultural Revolution was a complete mistake, and that a lot of good came out of it. He also said that a lot of older people nowadays think of that time as one of China’s greatest times. I tried to point out that Chinese education suffered huge setbacks because of the Cultural Revolution, but by that time he had already launched into Mao’s great accomplishments and how he’s still considered the greatest man in Chinese history by most Chinese, etc. etc. It really was interesting to hear his point of view, and he’s been one of the more vocal but friendly advocants of that school of thought that I’ve talked with. The problem was that I really was quite tired, and his Mandarin was so bad that it took full concentration to understand it. So the experiential acquisition of an interesting perspective was reduced to me just nodding and now and then, mumbling “uh-huh,” looking out the window in a daze….


16

Jul 2002

Flashback: Aug. 20, 2000

[This is one of my first journal entries in China. Note that I no longer live in the apartment I mention in this entry…]

> I am getting eaten alive by mosquitoes here in my own apartment! It’s ironic — I felt like I had just reached a point in the last few years in the USA where mosquitoes didn’t bother me much anymore. Now I’m in China, and I guess I’m some kind of foreign delicacy. They love me! Hopefully it won’t be a year-round problem… The worst part is that they’re really smart! I’m sitting at a table now, and the only place they bite me is on my legs and feet (mostly feet), so I can’t see them, let alone kill them. Then they bite me above the waist when I’m asleep! AAAUUUGHHH!!! I’m trying to use mosquito coils (which supposedly work really well), but with no A/C, I have to use a fan all the time, and I think that kind of reduces the effectiveness of the smoke from the coils. Grrr…

> Bus rides here are really something. Sort of a surreal experience. You know how when you’re playing a video game, or watching a crazy car chase scene in a movie, and there are always certain points at which someone — a man walking, a car, a woman with a baby on a bike — pops out in front of your vehicle, just to keep it exciting? That’s what it feels like! It’s like this bus is part of a well choreographed scheme to give all the passengers a thrillride. The bus slows down only enough to miss other cars, cyclists, and pedestrians by scant inches. I hate to think what would happen if those on the street stopped behaving exactly as the others on the street expect them to. I couldn’t believe it when a man pedaled right across the path of our bus on his bike, with a baby on back, and our bus missed his back tire by a hair. Even some of the Chinese passengers were gasping. The man and baby didn’t seemed fazed.

> Taxi rides aren’t much different from bus rides, except that taxis stop a lot faster than buses and they’re a lot more maneuverable, so the same feeling of helplessness regarding impending accidents isn’t there. One time I actually got a ride with a driver who was actually CAREFUL, and it ended up being a pretty funny experience. She just seemed so out of place, braking instead of swerving, and actually yielding to the traffic that was bearing down on her from the sides.


30

Jun 2002

Yangshuo

Well, I am home at last. It took me over 24 hours of traveling to get here. Yesterday when I arrived at the airport shuttle bus station they told me there were no tickets left! So I had to take a taxi. Instead of paying 20 RMB I paid 800! And I didn’t even have that much on me, so I had to pay US$50 and 400 RMB. Not exactly a deal. But there was all kinds of backup on the freeway, and my crazy driver knew all kinds of back roads (and took them at breakneck speed). Then when I got to the airport they told me since I didn’t reconfirm my flights they had all been canceled! What the heck?! I thought that whole reconfirming thing was optional. Anyway, I made it home. All is well.

It’s hard to believe that just last weekend I was vacationing in Yangshuo with Simon and Wilson. That was quite a nice escape… We flew out there for 3 nights, 4 days of fun. We spent most of our time in the town on the happening little West Street. It’s lined with Western bars and restaurants. The food was really quite good, and although it was double the price of a Chinese restaurant, it still came out cheap for us foreigners. Our hotel room (triple) on West Street was only 100 RMB per night, thanks to Simon’s bargaining skills.

Anyway, we had a blast… Mountain biking through country roads, exploring a cave full of water (and bats, and mud, and a waterfall, etc.), climbing mountains, taking a river cruise, enjoying breathtaking scenery, visiting minority villages…

Traveling is definitely a good way to get to know friends in a new way. I’d say this time it was a complete success — great memories and no regrets…