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Published: October 28th 2008
A photo that was recently sent to me by a student that she took on Sports Day.
I swear there must be thousands of legal taxis in this city. Everywhere you look, you see the familiar green or red cars zooming by, sometimes five or ten in a row. Indy 500 drivers should only hope that these guys and gals never get behind the wheels of a race car because they would soon take over the sport. One ride around the block with a Wuhan cabbie and you realize that they are very skilled at their job. If there is an opening in the traffic or enough room to get by something, they will make their move.
At first, we held on for dear life in the back seat as we raced along dodging pedestrians and other wanna be targets. Now, I sit in the front seat and enjoy the ride. Most of the drivers are pretty friendly, others are all business. As with everything else, the fare is rounded up or down and there is never any tip expected. Whether it goes up or down is at the driver's discretion. If the final fare is 25.4 kwai, you might pay 25 or 26. You just never know. But you can be pretty well guaranteed that you won't get any coins back!! A tip is never expected and we have got into the habit of not even thinking about it anymore.
You can also be pretty sure that the driver will smoke and spit out his window on a regular basis. If they get lost, which rarely happens anymore now that we can tell them where to go, they will sometimes just stop in the traffic, get out of the car and go get directions. There is never a dull moment in a taxi here!! It's also fun to try to decide which red lights they will go through and which ones they will stop at. The ratio of moving through to stopping is about 10:1.
After all the taxi rides I have been on, riding the scooter is not much of a problem. I have learned from the big guns in the blue cabs. Go behind anything moving across your path. Never try to beat a moving target to the same place if they are coming towards you. Always move to the rear of crossing pedestrians. They don't expect you to move in front of them so will not be prepared to stop walking. They will even try to get a moving bus to do the same manoeuvre. It is one giant game of chicken after another. Forget about red lights, stop signs and one-way streets. Forget about going the right way down exit lanes or entrance lanes. If there is a space for the scooter without a moving vehicle in it, go for it. My God, last night I saw a car go up on the side walk and use the pedestrian walkway to make a u-turn at a major intersection. After awhile, the phrase, "Go with the flow." takes on a new meaning here. And lord help you if you go against the flow. I have a feeling that's the cause of some of the accidents here!
And speaking of taxi rides, we have a whole other group of illegal drivers here that act as taxis. They are just private individuals that will stop and ask you if you want a ride somewhere. I will not use them unless I know exactly where I am going, how much it would normally cost, and can give them directions.
A couple of nights ago, I took a cab to Computer City to buy a bunch of computer stuff for home. I was standing outside on the side of the street trying to hail a taxi when a woman came along and started talking to me (in Chinese, I might add). A few months ago, I wouldn't have had a clue what she was saying. However, with my growing limited vocabulary, I thought she wanted to share a cab. She was asking me where I was going and how much it would probably cost. I told her and then eventually realized she was asking me if I wanted to go in her car. It was raining, the traffic was terrible and I knew it would be awhile before I could get a taxi to stop, so I thought to myself, "Why not?."
The next thing I knew, she was leading me over to a van. There were already five young men in the back of the thing with a bunch of computer stuff they had purchased; boxes, monitors, and god knows what else piled to the ceiling. She motioned me into the front seat beside an older guy driving which I assumed was her husband and told me to put my bags in the back. She climbed into the back and sat on the floor beside everything and everybody, and off we went. Of course, the driver heard my little bit of Chinese so thought I could speak the language and started chatting away to which I responded, "Wo bu dong, wo bu dong." several times. I don't understand, I don't understand.
We headed down a little side street that was littered with people, mostly walking in our direction. He honked his way along until we finally broke out onto a main drag a little ways later. I had visions of being led down the road to an abandoned warehouse where we would be taken care of and all our stuff would be taken. But, seriously, not really. All of us feel very safe here. I never would have done this in any North American city.
He proceeded to drop off the woman, who I think was his wife, and then the five young guys with all their stuff. Before we carried on to Vanke, he had me check to make sure that all my stuff was still in the back of the van. So in the long run, it was a good deal for an extra 15 kwai or about $2 more than a regular taxi. Plus I didn't have to stand out in the rain trying to hail a taxi.
We have started taking Chinese lessons at the school once or twice a week at the end of the day and it is really helping. Some of the Chinese teachers are providing the lessons along with some student volunteers. I am now starting to pick up the language a little more and try to practice whenever I can.
The weather is getting a little wetter but still quite warm and sunny most days. The nights are longer and the days shorter, but we can still sit out on our balcony late at night with our shirt sleeves. I have been watching the global economic meltdown with interest and am thinking that my lifetime of financial irresponsibility might finally be paying off. With no mutual funds or savings, and no real estate, there is not a lot to lose right now! And it seems that China is weathering the storm pretty well so far compared to the rest of the world.
Till the next time.
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