Friday, March 14, 2008

Beijing Taxis, Chp. 3

This morning I won the Beijing taxi lottery. The cab driver looked at the mingpian (name card) for the office where I was going, a location that makes most cab drivers look at me in hostility for having to drive somewhere so far away, confirmed the location by reading aloud the address and saying 'ok' to me, for me to respond by saying 'ok' back, then started to drive.

At first it looked like he was taking the regular route but then he made a turn onto another major street I know, one that goes through the area where most embassies are located. I don't (yet) have the vocabulary to protest so I just watched familiar places go by and wondered why we made the turn. It soon dawned on me that this route was missing most of the traffic I usually experience on this ride. This route cut 10 minutes and 10 RMB off of a ride I usually dread.

In addition, this driver actually knew how to drive. All of the cars I've ridden in here in Beijing have manual transmissions. In theory that's great - I like to drive good cars with manual transmissions. Unfortunately, sitting in the backseat of a car when the driver doesn't know how to change gears without the car making a hideous grinding sound can be both nauseating and scary, especially considering that the roads of Beijing are populated by many other cars with drivers just as bad. A cab driver who doesn't grind the gears is a rare find, the Beijing cabbie gold standard. If he would have accepted a tip I would have gladly given one to him.

The man didn't have a card. When I asked his name he just pointed to the Beijing Taxi Driver Service Supervision card with his photo on it that was attached to the dashboard, similar to the way New York cabs have cab driver identification posted. His name was written on it, but it was in Chinese characters. That didn't help me. The receipt had a phone number on it so I asked if it was his (zhege shi ni?). No. He finally took the receipt back from me and wrote his cell phone number on it.

The next time I want to go somewhere far that requires a taxi and I can make arrangements beforehand you know who I'll be calling (or, actually, having someone else call on my behalf). I'll have to find out his name.

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