Tuesday, May 19, 2009

First Up, the Cabbies want you to die!

I found myself for the last week or so in Shanghai on business. I have to say I like the thought of being on business trips in other cities. Indeed I'd like to move towards a future where I get to spend a lot of time having business trips in other cities. For now I was having a nice business trip in Shanghai. Most expenses were paid and the work was very pleasant.

My only real experience with China at this point has been Beijing. Beijing is an odd, huge, massive sprawling city. I spent much of the time there running around with people who already lived in Beijing and found most of my needs were taken care of. In Shanghai I was mostly running myself around in the free time I had between sessions.

The first day after the first session I pile into a cab. Now here is a problem. I haven't the foggiest idea how to tell cab driver where I am going. I do have a business card. I give him the business card to the hotel.

He reads the card and looks back at me.

"Something in Chinese."

"Card. Card...Map? Over?" I start making hand motions to turn the card over.

He asks again "Something Something taset taset something something." Taset rings a bell. And then I realize. I know Chinese numbers. I know them because they are used in Korea all the time. He's asking me if the number is 55. It is 55. I know this much.

"Yea, yea, taset taset, card card." I'm really helping this guy figure things out. He finally flips the card over to see where I am going, puts the card on the dash and starts driving away.

He does not speak to me. He does not make friendly conversation. He doesn't ask me any questions in English. He drives. I stare at the advertisment on the back of the seat. He drives. It's so wholly different from the Korean cab experience where it seems like every cabbie I've every run into knows the same questions in English: Where are you from? Are you married? How much do you weigh? Want a boyfriend? Can you teach me English?

Here the cabbie is uninterested in making any kind of conversation. Oddly this unnerves me. I feel like I should be having a conversation. All the best Korean I know I learned in cabs. But I am silent, and he drives, and I try to think if there is any other Chinese I know by way of Korea.

Eventually I have nothing to do but to watch him drive. This was a mistake. The last thing I want to be doing is watching the cabbie drive. What I want to be doing is focusing very intently on the advertisement. To be whistling, to be reading a book. I do not want to be watching the cab driver drive in Shanghai. In Beijing I wasn't really that bothered in the cabs. Seemed fairly normal.

Shanghai is a different story. Rule number one, cabbies really don't care who you are or where you are going. Rule number two, cabbies don't care if you live or die. Rule number three, cabbies don't really care if you get to your destination, when they stop you pay.

I'm watching the cabbie drive. He swerves into traffic, runs a red light, cuts of an old lady on a bike, pulls a left turn into another lane in front of a bus. My stomach is churning. Finally I see the hotel coming up on the left. I'm so happy. Never have I been so happy to see my hotel. The driver pulls into the left lane. This makes sense since he has to turn left to get into the hotel lot. However he pulls into the left hand lane about sixty feet from the hotel. And there is not left hand turn lane, just the left hand lane where the other traffic is coming straight for us.

Indeed a big black car is coming straight for us. The cabbies speeds up. Guy in the big black car speeds up too. They are playing chicken all of the sudden in the middle of the street, in the middle of the day, in the middle of the road in Shanghai. I am in the middle of the back seat praying silently to whichever merry gods might be listening that I live to see future cab rides.

The cab driver pulls an insanely sharp left hand turn into the hotel lot, the car that was coming towards us stomps the brakes so hard you can smell the tires on the street, he missed the bumper of the cab by inches. I screamed, couldn't be help. When the ride finally stopped moving the driver just starts laughing at me while he points at the meter.

Your not dead, pay up.

One way or the other it's a win win for the cabbie. You live he gets paid, everyone dies he doesn't have to worry about driving in the city anymore.

I hadn't even been in Shanghai fifteen hours.

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