Last night was the birthday of one of my amici italiani (Italian friends), celebrated by a birthday dinner in a western-style cafe and restaurant in a hutong near the Lama Temple. Getting there required a taxi (or an hour and a half walk), at one of the busiest times.
When I left my building I head to a street where it's usually fairly easy to get a cab, then stood on the corner and watched taxis driving past with passengers. There was a man in front of me, who had been waiting about the same amount of time, and as an empty cab drove by he waved for for me to take it. Yes, I wanted the cab, but I didn't want to leave someone who had been waiting longer standing there. I asked if he was sure, he said yes. Then I said where I was going and asked if he was going in the same direction. After a short back-and-forth I convinced him that it was ok to share the taxi.
Usually my taxi language lessons come from conversation with the driver. Not this time. The man with whom I shared the cab speaks no English, is from Beijing, has lived in Shenzhen but now lives in Xi'an. He's here now visiting his parents. He's heard of New York, has never been to the U.S. but has visited Germany and speaks some German.
We had a pleasant 20 minute conversation, in Chinese. It was very repetitive, and basic, and there were long silences, but it was good.