We just returned home — safely — from a ride with the taxi driver from hell. It’s not our first. This was the second time I’ve been in a cab with a driver who cut a wheelie at a red light. When I got out of the cab the first time it happened, I noticed that his little toyota cornona had oversized wheels with mags on them, as well as a racing stripe hand painted on the side. I thought to myself, "Well, I should have known!" After that, I’ve always tried to notice how a cabbie is driving before I even flag it down. Tonight, I didn’t notice anything unusual about this cab as it approached.
Tonight wasn’t nearly the worst cab I’ve been in, either. I never feared we were near death, as I have before. By far the worst was the time I arrived at the train station alone at night, during a rain storm, and there was a wreck on the bridge we have to cross to get home. The driver — deciding the gridlocked traffic was taking too long where eight lanes cut down to six to cross the bridge — decided to bypass the wreck by cutting over into the oncoming traffic. The oncoming traffic was not stopped, it was coming at us at normal speed, and there was a lot of it. It truly felt to me like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride as we sped face to face into the headlights of buses and heavy trucks, zigzagged in the rain through bicycles, jaywalking pedestrians and all the other general road hazards here. I think that one ride contributed greatly to the fact that I’ve developed high blood pressure since I’ve lived here!
In the meantime, in an effort to control my blood pressure without resort to heavy sedatives, I’ve learned a few phrases in Chinese to communicate with the driver to please slow down. The first phrase my Chinese teacher taught me was, "Qing man man lai," which means "Please take it easy." This isn’t usually very effective. Taxi drivers pretend they don’t know what I’m saying. So, being American, I get more to the point: "Qing kai che man yi dian-r," which translates, "Please drive the car more slowly." They still don’t understand. So I’ve also copied some of my Chinese friends who say, "Sifu, women bu gan sijian, man man lai," which translates, "Master, we don’t have a hurry, please take it easy." This seems slightly more effective — perhaps through use of its appeal to the Buddhist sensibility to focus on the spiritual and transcendent in life rather than the mundane issues that make us hurry.
Well, tonight with Clarissa in the front seat (and she speaks better Chinese than any of us), all three of us tried all three of these phrases as well as some other variations Clarissa has learned from her Chinese friends. The taxi driver gave no indication that he heard any of them. He continued to tailgate, run up on stopped cars, honk his horn, switch lanes suddenly, nearly run over pedestrians, all while we were in the heavy bumper-to-bumper traffic. Then, when we got to the straight roadways after the bridge, which had few cars, he must have thought the straight stretch was meant for a little freedom and fun; that’s when he popped the wheelie as he left the red light he had very reluctantly stopped for.
I was a bit surprised that I had actually no concern at all at the way he was driving. Hmm. Maybe I should put that in my list of "You know you’ve lived here too long when . . . ." as in, "running red lights going 50 in a 30 mph zone and you think it’s normal." My list of "You know you’ve lived here too long when . . . " also includes little things like, "when the footprints on the toilet seat are yours," or "when you leave the ‘Garbano’ label conspicuously on your jacket sleeve," or "you like the smell of the bus," or "you no longer need tissues to blow your nose." (I’m sorry to say, but some depraved expats have come up with a list of more than 100 of these little items, and at least 50% of them are really funny.)
I wondered if my lack of concern was due to total acclimitization, the fact that in general the traffic was moving too slowly to really fear a horrible wreck, or the fact that once we were on our own road there were no other cars to run into. Anyway . . . we were lighthearted enough to joke about this all the way home.
During our ride in the car driven by the bat who had just escaped from hell, and after our requests to slow down were ignored, we began to discuss what would be the most effective way to get a taxi driver to slow down. I read once of a man who had a business card printed which said, "I have a heart condition, so please drive slowly. If I should have a heart attack while in your taxi, please drive me to the nearest hospital." He swore that it worked every time.
But since we had just eaten and were coming home from supper, David advocated that our card should have a slightly different twist. He said it should read: "I have a weak stomach. Please drive slowly or else I may vomit in your car."
Hmm Which would be more effective? Heart attack or vomit?
If a person has a heart attack in your car and thus becomes incapacitated, this could actually work to your financial advantage. Gee, maybe you could drive him around all night and run up a really big taxi bill. (The taxi we were in tonight successfully took the longest and most traffiked route home and thus ran the bill up an extra 4 RMB, or 20%.) On the other hand, if a person vomits in your car, it stinks. You just want to get them out as quickly as possible, plus you have to clean it up.
Therefore, I think the "vomit in your car" card would be more effective. I’m going to have one printed. Next time you’re coming to China, be sure to ask me for one!