Saturday, May 26, 2007

Kamikaze Taxi Driver

We had the taxi ride from hell last night.

To understand how truly horrific it was, one must understand how horrific traffic and driving are in all of China.

I was struggling this morning trying to think of an apt description of the driving. I had difficulty. Until I find something better, this will have to do.

Imagine you are in a little car, your ass is on fire and the only water is across the city. You have to extinguish the fire as quickly as possible but the highways and roads are full of cars - also with drivers with their asses on fire. Each person is racing to the same or nearby ass-fire extinguishers. The first one there finds relief. To be the first, traffic laws, such as they are, don't apply to you. You weave in and out of traffic, you take up multiple lanes, you nearly run over pedestrians and bicyclists. It doesn't matter because your ass is on fire and you must put it out.

That said, we were "following" another car to a restaurant. One of the gentleman who presented yesterday morning was taking us to dinner but his little car didn't have enough room for all 6 of us so 3 of us got in the cab.

And were never heard from again......

Only half true.

We follow the Honda Odyssey out of the Beijing Friendship Hotel. We follow it through traffic. We follow it over every speedbumb in Beijing. We follow it through this lovely park. We see some pretty cool architecture. We follow it to this residential townhouse/condo building.

We were following the wrong damn vehicle! The Honda turns around and we see some dude driving it who isn't our host! Imagine our surprise and horror! Turns out, our host didn't even have a Honda, let alone a minivan, which could probably have seated all six of us.

We cannot speak Chinese, our cabbie cannot speak English. Ray, SBU Trustee, tries to find out if he knows where we need to go. The guy says "yes." I said, if he knew where we were supposed to go, why in Jesus didn't he take us there?

We have now been in the cab for at least 45 minutes. He tells us it will be 10 more minutes. We just want to return to our hotel and screw a fabulous dinner with wonderful guests. But we perservere. We give him 10 more minutes.

Oddly, or thankfully, our host got the number of the cab and was able to call to find out our location when we didn't arrive in a reasonable amount of time. The cabbie thinks this is funny. We laugh otherwise we might hurt someone.

It turns out I can tolerate the smell in a cab for about 15 minutes. Then I need help. I can also tolerate quite a bit of jarring, but then I need help. I started to feel motion sick. I thought I might hurl at any moment. I didn't, thank God. I had to start sniffing my hand because at least it smelled pleasant. I couldn't take the stench in the cab. I finally had to get out my travel size bottle of rose hydrosol (make by Wild Mountain Organics, naturally) and sniff the spritzer.

We finally arrived at the restaurant and I was afraid to eat because I still felt a bit nauseous. Our bill for the 60 minute ride was 57RMB which is about $8. We can't complain about how cheap cabs are. Can you imagine driving around NYC for 60 minutes - what would that cost be?

We ate a wonderful dinner. Had great conversation.

Then we had to get into another cab. None of us wanted this.

How long do you suppose it took us to get home?

10 minutes. 17RMB (about $2.50)

We had a 60 minute ride that took 10 minutes.

We were pissed, but agreed that we had a pretty amazing story to share.

Also, many people in Beijing ride bikes. I applaud this. They have separate lanes on all streets (except alleys) for bikes. It's quite nice. Of course, bicyclists also ride as if their asses were on fire, so it is hardly safe. All the bikes are about 50 years old and rusty. One of our group mentioned seeing a new bike shop that was quite sizable. Then we joked that we had not seen a new bike on the trip at all. Where were they?

Almost as soon as we mentioned it, one rides by. It was shiny and new. Kind of lavender and silver/white.

So the cab ride was worth it. We saw a new bike.

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