cab conversations

January 14th, 2008

I didn’t want to go out this afternoon, but a colleague who is about to head home for the summer holidays (you read that right: She’s also a Kiwi) wanted translation help buying gifts of an electronic nature for family back home. And so I wound up going up to the Buy Now/百脑汇 at Dongdaqiao. Turns out the only help she needed was finding the particular thing she wanted. Once found, she could manage all the buying perfectly well in her basic, broken Chinese. Still, buying stuff is never difficult. But that’s not the point…

This colleague has a driver who she always calls on any occasion she has to go beyond walking distance- and walking distance for her is not very far. This driver has a little, silver Geely hatchback, so I have to assume that he makes his living as a heiche (black, or underground taxi) driver. Still, it’s uncanny just how often he is available at the drop of a hat to take my colleague anywhere… Anyway, she called up her driver, he took us up to Dongdaqiao, shopping done, he picked us up, and then dropped her off at Hong Qiao on the way to bringing me home.

Fortunately my colleague had not even for one second entertained the idea of taking me along on the rest of her shopping expedition. Fortunately, because she first said we’d go to this mysterious place I’d suggested for her electronic stuff, then she wanted to go to the Silk Market. I asked if I could be excused from translation duty once her electronic stuff was safely purchased, and she said, of course! and the driver will bring you straight home then return to pick me up. And then I voiced my somewhat less than glowingly positive opinion of the Silk Market, and we chatted about such things, and she said, yeah, Hong Qiao is generally better, and so the plan was changed to her being dropped off at Hong Qiao for shopping while the driver brought me home, after which he’d return to Hong Qiao to pick her up…

…but that’s still not the point.

So, on the way home, I thought I’d try and strike up a conversation. Is he from Beijing? Yes. Laobeijingren (Old Beijinger- family has been there several generations)? Yes. But he’s still being unusually reticent for a Laobeijingren. So I asked what he thought of Beijing now, as opposed to, like….

Luan! Chaotic!

What do you mean?

And then followed a tirade about the sheer number of people that have come from Outside to Beijing, the number of cars on the roads, the amount of chaotic shit that happens thanks to all these people coming into Beijing…

I mentioned that I’d recently read a couple of articles suggesting that the capital be moved, seeing as Beijing’s environment simply can not accomodate this number of people, being far too dry, and that the reason there are so many people here. Yeah, he says, but there’s no hope of moving the capital right now. Right, I says, Tiananmen Square and the Great Hall of the People and Zhongnanhai are simply too important in China’s political culture, trying to spur him on. Yeah, he says, Tiananmen, that piece of land, is just too important. And then he’s off on this rant about how Chinese people only go there to watch the raising and lowering of the National Flag, and what’s the big deal? It’s just a flag going up and down! But there they go, all have to see it, and he takes his child there every National Day, and they show up early and spread some newspaper on the ground to sit on as they wait, but you wanna see the sheer number of people there! And last time they spread their newspapers on the ground and sat down to wait, and there was this old lady from Shunyi there with two kids waiting, a bloody hour before the flag raising! And there was this huge mass of people all waiting for the flag raising, thousands, an hour early. And then all of a sudden this huge mass of people, an hour before the flag raising, suddenly surged forward, all pushing and shoving ahead to get a good view!

And then we arrived at my gate and we said our goodbyes.

It was a fun conversation, but another sign that I’ve become too much of a shut in. I need to get out and about and talking to random people a lot more.  Shit, back when we first started dating, I used to give taxi drivers very specific directions to lzh’s school when I took her home of an evening- very specific directions, and totally unprompted. Nowadays I just sit back and let her do all the talking. I used to know this city like the back of my hand, now I feel like a resident of Nanmofang Village who travels into the city by donkey cart once in a blue moon. I need to get out and re-explore and mix it up and talk to random people like I used to. I used to have huge amounts of fun with taxi drivers, even way back when my Chinese was limited to basic directions and “No, I’m not a bloody Yank, I’m from New Zealand!”

[totally irrelevant tangent: I always found Taiyuan cabbies to be a million times more chatty and friendly than their Beijing counterparts. That may have something to do with the large number of Dongbeiren driving cabs in Taiyuan back when I lived there (yes, I know, Dongbeiren moving to Taiyuan to drive cabs, including one who had spent three years in Japan)]

In fact, I learnt a huge amount of my Chinese from taxi drivers.

Anyway, dragging my lazy arse back out into the big wide world out there is one of the plans I have for this winter holiday. There are parts of Beijing I’ve always wanted to visit, but haven’t yet got to (as absurd as that may sound), many, many parts of the city I want to re-explore, and anyway, I can’t just continue as a shut-in. I don’t want to turn into a crusty old misanthrope just yet, not when I haven’t even made it to the grand old age of 32.

2 Responses to “cab conversations”

  1. John Says:

    I found that after three years in any one place, I tended to lose interest in it because I’d seen most of what there was to be seen. Whatever was left was side streets.

    On the other hand, I’ve messed up Chengdu by covering the whole city over the summer last year. I keep thinking I ought to go somewhere, but just end up going and buying more DVDs or taking a trip to Metro/Carrefour etc.

  2. wangbo Says:

    That was part of it for me, but what two things that got me really shut-in were getting bored with Beijing’s bar scene (and, of course, lzh taming me, but the fact is I was already bored with the bars when I met her) and Tianjin and the shithole I found myself in when I moved back to Beijing. Now I’m in a better area, better job, and I want to get back out. I also want to hear more of Beijing’s music. But yeah, it’s not the excitement of being in a new place that’s driving me, it’s the feeling of turning into one of those Japanese teenagers who seals himself off in his room and communicates with the world only by notes slipped under the door.