This evening I was going from my apartment via taxi to a friend's building. I forgot to put a mingpian (name card) for the building, with a map and the address in Chinese characters, into my pocket before I left but I thought I'd be able to give directions for the fairly simple route there without a problem.
I got into a cab and said "Chaoyang Lu" and the cabbie started to drive, making the right turn at Xidawang Lu. When we got to the next major intersection he turned right onto a road leading to the Fourth Ring Road - an 8 lane highway with multiple levels. This was *not* part of the route and I started to make unintelligible noises, wondering what he was doing. My driver then explained that it would take a long time to get through the traffic and by making this turn he could bypass it. "Wo dong, xie xie" (I understand, thank you) I replied. The cabbie then decided to give me an in-depth explanation of the detour. I quickly said "Wo bu dong, dui bu qi" (I don't understand, sorry). He looked disappointed but laughed at the situation with me.
When we were past the detour we arrived in a place I'd never seen before and I didn't see any of my usual reference points. This blog has a wide audience so I won't type the expletives that started going through my head. The cabbie asked me which way to go. He turned to me expectantly. Swearing wasn't going to help, so i just said "Na li, CCTV?" (Where is CCTV?) and the cabbie understood that I was looking for the award-winning Rem Koolhaas-designed headquarters for Central Chinese Television that is now under construction, a building that looks like it might be a second home to Star Trek Voyager's borg queen (for my Mandarin speaking friends: Yes, I know, 'na li' is not the appropriate word for 'where' in that context but it was the word that came to mind and the cabbie understood what I was asking). He pointed left. I pointed left and indicated that that was the direction he should turn.
As we got closer I pointed to my friend's building and said 'zhei ge' (that one) and the cabdriver turned and left me right in front. Sweet success!