I’ve been accused of being the anti-Chamber of Commerce for Beijing, but in my defense, I call ‘em as I see ‘em. And sometimes the truth as rough-edged as China itself.
Today is a good example of both the good and the stuff that makes for good blog posts. I needed to get to an interview at the Park Hyatt, which is in the center of the central business district of Beijing. And it’s a major hotel, so how could this be complicated, right?
I hired (for 30 RMB) what some people call a carbon-monoxide mobile, a tin-can-enclosed vehicle that is kind of a cross between a motorcycle surrounded by an aluminum box and a teeny-tiny van. Sometimes you face forward but most of the time you face backwards. Here’s a recent ride I took.
And then today I got one that faced forward. The car seemed to hit every little bump as if I was actually sitting on the pavement, and had about as much power as a human-pedaled machine, groaning through intersections, up bike lanes, and across giant lanes of traffic. Same old same old.
Then things got interesting. When we got to my “destination,” which I had shown him on my handy Beijing taxi guide app, he clearly had no idea where to take me. He started asking me questions in Chinese, and all I could do was show him where I wanted to go on my iphone map. He grabbed the iphone and set out to accost passersby with questions about directions. I worried that he might take off with the phone, even though I was sitting in his parked vehicle. I’m figuring the unlocked iphone I bought back in the States is about equal in value to his vehicle.
But like all Beijing drivers I’ve met, he was honest and he came back with the phone. He pointed across Jianguomen, indicating we were on the wrong side of the street. And then he turned the buggy around and started heading back the way we came. We were riding in the bike lane, but going in the wrong direction. It was at this point that I kind of wished I was facing backwards so I couldn’t see my imminent death. I’m a pretty cool customer in Beijing transportation, but this scared me.
And as we crossed against traffic in the intersection, an enormous two-section bus roared directly at us. He swerved just in time and finally deposited me on the other side, half ignoring my pleas to let me off right there.
I arrived at my interview just a few minutes late, with my hair all wild and my bag a jumble of items. It seems that there’s an inverse relationship between my level of dishevelment and the polished nature of the person I am interviewing. Today’s interview was an etiquette instructor. Yep, we were a study in contrasts.
But the interview was fine, and on the way home I tried to chat up my driver – in a regular yellow taxi this time. The minute I said that today the air is good, he looked at me with such surprise I thought he might drive off the road. And after he enthusiastically agreed, he started singing. Just the fact that I had chatted with him seemed to make him insanely happy. And that’s what I love about China. I challenge anyone to send me evidence of their DC or NY cab driver serenading them.