My day started at 6 am. I get up, get ready, and grab a taxi to get to work.
I used to take the subways but taxis are faster, easier and still quite inexpensive. For the amount they cost, they also reduce my worry and anxiety about being late to work or dealing with problems getting in and out of the subway trains. It is a benefit that far outweighs the costs for me.
As I jumped in a taxi, the driver asked me for directions. My Chinese is still so limited that I can only say “Kunsha Junction” which is the name of the crossroads where my I work. Most seem rightfully confused so I should them my taxi card.
A taxi card is just as it would seem. It is a card, with a picture of where I want to go, and the writing is in English and in Chinese script. They can see a map of the location and then read the directions.
One might think this would make it easy. However, Beijing is growing so quickly, and there are so many new places, that it can be confusing. The cabbies often ask me if we are going the right way and I usually respond with a simple yes or no in Chinese and hope I’m not wrong.
As we hit the first stoplight, the taxi driver points with his hand to the left and says, “Left-a?” I start to smile and say yes in Mandarin and we both start laughing. He keeps laughing and starts humming music.
As we drive we both smile and laugh. As I watch the scenery, I hear him get ready to hock a loogie and then he opens the door and spits it out. I smile as I’m getting used to this bit of Chinese culture and it doesn’t surprise me as much as it used to when I first arrived. I had heard of it but I had never expected so many people to do it.
As we continue on our way, the driver starts picking his nose. Again, this is part of the culture and it is what it is. Maybe that is why people don’t shake hands? I don’t know. This, compared to the spitting, is still taking time to get used to and accept at this point. All I know is I bring baby wipes to my gym and wipe down everything I touch before using it.
I get to work, pay the driver, and he smiles widely and says, “Sank you!” I smile back and say, “You are welcome” in Mandarin. I like to think we part ways better for the experience. I know I enjoyed it.
On the way home, I hail a cab and he pulls right over. I jump in and tell him “Huixinxijiebeikou” which is the subway stop 1 block from my house. He starts laughing and smiling and says, “Huixinxijinbeikou!?!” and keeps laughing. I’m guessing it is my horrible accent and I start laughing which makes it worse. I then tell him my actual apartment name, “Loma Huayuan” (Chinese for Roman Gardens as we have a bunch of Roman statues in our lobby and parking areas. Don’t ask me why there are Roman statues but there are.
Now the driver really starts to bust up laughing at my accent and says “No” in Mandarin since he doesn’t know it. All the way home, he keeps saying “Huixinxijiebeikou” and pointing out things and laughing. He was so happy and smiling so much I could tell he was enjoying himself and happy he had this horribly accented expatriate in his taxi.
As we got close to my home we passed Huixinxijienankou (“bei” means North while “nan” means South. Therefore Beijing is the “North Capital” of China.) which is the stop before my subway stop and he says, “Huixinjienankou? Huxinxijiebeikou?” and keeps on laughing. I respond with, “Huixinxijiebeikou” and smile and laugh.
As we get close to my apartment complex, I point at it and say, “Loma Huayuan” and he says, “Doi, doi, doi!” which means “Yes, yes, yes!” and is almost always say multiple times. He is smiling and pulls over at the gate to my apartment and waves to me as I walk off after paying.
I think about these two taxi rides, both on the same day, and how much I’ve gained from them. I have met, even if just for 20 minutes, two people who have enriched my life, and I have hopefully done the same for them, and I feel so happy and joyful because of this little exchange.
I could have taken the subway but the exchanges there are much more limited because people know where they are going and are mostly interested in the phones or tablets.
The subway cost 40 cents each way for a 20 minute ride.
The taxis cost 5 bucks each way for a 20 minute ride.
The experience I was given with these two taxi rides was worth so much more to me than gold.