Monday, October 11, 2010

Beijing, China: Part 1 - Taxi Ride from Hell.

After a grueling 13 hour train ride on a hard seat I finally arrived in Beijing, the capital of the People's Republic of China. I didn't see one westerner on my journey from Xi'an to Beijing. Not one. Not even at the bustling train station in Xi'an. This really surprised me, as the route from Xi'an to Beijing is not off the beaten path by any means. What didn't surprise me, however, was that the people in Beijing were just as mental as they were in Xi'an. They spit, push and shove, and angrily holler at you just as much here as anywhere else in China. But hey, it's simply the Chinese way.

I quickly exited the train as time was of the essence. The hostel that I'd booked said I had to check-in before 11am, or they would be forced to give away my bed. Because of this, I opted to take a taxi - something that I rarely do, as taxi's will inevitably cut into my frugal daily budget. But if I wanted to arrive at my hostel on time, this was the safest option. I walked at a brisk pace, following the signs that read "Taxi" throughout the train station. I used my size as an advantage to force my way through the crowds of people who were in my way. I figured I'd been pushed and shoved repeatedly throughout my travels in China, it was now my turn to make my presence known. When in Rome . . .

"I should be there in a jiffy," I thought, as I continued to push my way through the manic crowds. "And a taxi will quickly whisk me away. You're fine. You're fine. I'm gonna make it on time. I'm gonna make it."

So I thought . . .

"Oh, come on!" I said to myself, as the taxi-line outside of Beijing's train station was ridiculously long. I frequently glanced at my watch as the line moved at a snail's pace. There simply weren't enough taxis to meet the demand. Then to make matters worse, security would allow roughly five people at a time to approach the street and fight for the next available taxi, regardless of one's previous position in line. And the competition was fierce. Ah, yes. It was a classic case of dog-eat-dog. Good 'ol fashion Darwinism. Survival of the fittest, indeed.

[sound of car door closing]

"Hello. Ni hao," I said to the driver, before handing him directions that I had had written for me in Chinese. I didn't want there to be any confusion. No confusion . . . what . . . so . . . ever.

There was a long pause, however, after I handed my driver the directions.

"Wha-What's the confusion?" I asked him, as he continued to stare fixedly at the piece of paper.

Meanwhile, taxis began impatiently honking there horns at us. My driver's boss who was directing traffic quickly rushed over, hollering and screaming. Once he leaned his head inside of the window the two begin to have a heated exchange. I couldn't understand if my driver was refusing to take me personally, or that he didn't have the slightest idea of where my hostel was located. In either case, my driver came out looking like a complete imbecile.

"Boys, boys!" I interrupted, as the two of them were still screaming at one another, "What's the problem? It's written right here in Chinese! What's there NOT to understand?"

They continued barking at one another.

It was obvious that my driver's boss wanted him to take me to where my directions (written in Chinese, no less) clearly instructed him to go. I was waiting for Mr. Boss man to open a can of whoop-ass on my driver, and order him to take me to my hostel. It was so inevitable that that was going to happen.

But then he gave up and turned around.

"Nooooo! But you're the boss! You don't let him boss you! You boss him! That's what a boss is suppose to do! That's why YOU'RE the boss!" I screamed internally in frustration.

My driver turned around and handed me back my directions.

"Seriously?" I said, and I continued to sit there dumbfounded. Not ready to give up, I asked him, "Do you have a cell phone?" And I hand gestured like I was speaking on a phone.

He emphatically shook his head "no."

Not giving up, I hollered, "Tienanmen Square? Come on. You have to know Tienanmen Square!" How could he not know Tienanmen Square in English? It's one of the most touristy sites in all of China. But, alas, he did not.

[begin playing music while reading below.]

I slammed the door behind me.

[Inhale. Exhale.]

In a spinning pan-around-effect motion, imagine looking at me with a defeated expression written on my face. I stood there motionless for a moment gathering my thoughts while a man directing traffic blew his whistle, while car horns repeatedly honked, and as crazed Chinese raced to catch the next approaching taxi.

The next taxi was MINE!

"Hey!" I hollered, and reached inside the taxi, handing the driver the directions. "Do you know where this is?" The driver gave me a nod and waved for me to get in. I quickly threw my rucksack in the back and hopped in, slamming the door shut behind me.

"Hurry! Let's go. Andale, andale!" I shouted, as I tapped the head rest of his seat.

As I leaned back into my seat, I glanced at my watch again.

"Oy vey. This is going to be close."

Meanwhile my knees, which were digging into the seat in front of me, repetitiously swayed back and forth as I anxiously stared out the window. The traffic wasn't all entirely too bad, which allowed us to move along at a reasonable speed.

Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh.

My driver was doing an excellent job maneuvering around the traffic.

But then my driver motioned for me to hand him the directions. Frequently looking up to keep his eyes on the road, he managed to continue driving while holding the steering wheel with one hand and onto the little piece of paper with the other. He turned around and said something in Chinese, raising his right arm in the air, motioning like he didn't know where to go.

Then in broken English my driver said something that made me want to send him through the wind shield.

"Pa-Pay now."

"Wait. What?" I said. "Pay you now?"

I saw where this was going. Because the same thing happened to Detective James Carter played by Chris Tucker in the movie Rush Hour 2:

Carter: "Follow that car! Hey, follow that limo, this is a chase. Okay wherever it goes, you go. You're not moving. This is the opposite of chasing."

Carter's Cab Driver: "(Speaks Chinese)"

Carter: "What?"

Carter's Cab Driver: "(Speaks Chinese)"

Carter: "I will slap you if you don't move this car."

Carter's Cab Driver: "(Speaks Chinese)"

Carter: "I'm gonna slap you."

Carter's Cab Driver: "(Speaks in Chinese)"

Carter: "I'm gonna slap you."

Cater's Cab Driver: "(Speaks Chinese)"

Carter: "Alright. Okay, look. Here. You understand that?" (He hands over a wad of cash.)

Carter's Cab Driver: "Now you're speaking my language."

Until I paid him, he was going to pretend that he didn't know where the hostel was located. What a jerk! Too bad for the driver I'd already seen Rush Hour 2.

"No. No. No. I'll pay you what the meter says once we arrive at the hostel."

Sounding angry, my driver said something in Chinese. But I was sure he was requesting that I pay him.

"No. I will pay you once we arrive at the hostel." I reiterated.

I looked at my watch to see how much time I had left. I was cutting this too close for my liking. If this guy continued playing games, I wouldn't hesitate jumping out at the next stop and getting into another taxi.

Then I noticed some landmarks as a point of reference if I was to get lost. With uncanny accuracy, I knew just where I was - all just from a few moments looking at a map in Xi'an. If my driver was about to screw me, I would be able to find my way.

Meanwhile, it appeared that my driver's memory came back. He slowed down once we approached Beijing's many narrow streets and alleys, known as hutongs.

"Right here is fine," I said, and grabbed my bag.

When I was getting out, my driver requested that I pay more than what was clearly labeled on the meter. Needless to say, I disregarded what he was charging and gave him what the meter had listed.

After I quickly handed him the money, I threw my bag over my shoulder and hurried off. I found my hostel within the next few minutes.

Welcome to Beijing! Nice.


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