The Beijing city government is continuing its push for Beijing taxi drivers to be conversant in English by 2008. Frankly, I’m not sure why unless the first phrase they learn is: “How do you get there?” You see, in Beijing knowing the location of a particular place is not included in the “taxi fare package deal.” Unless you’re going to someplace VERY big and rather famous (and even then, it’s no guarantee–more on this later) be prepared to have more than just an address. And if you’re going somewhere you’ve never been before yourself…good luck.
Recent conversation (in Chinese):
Me: “Take me to the Liangma River Building, Number 8, East Third Ring Road, North branch.”
Driver: (scratching head) “Errr…I don’t recognize this place. How should I go?”
Me: It’s on the Third Ring Road, big building, you don’t know it?
Driver: (scratching belly) “Err…I don’t recognize it. I’ll go if you tell me how to get there, okay?”
Me: I’ve never been there before, I don’t know how to get there.
Driver: This will be difficult…
We finally found it and then only because 1) I kind of knew the area 2) it is RIGHT OFF OF THE Third Ring Road and 3) the building is 27 stories tall.
Things are getting better. On some of the streets inside the 2nd Ring Road, red signs with street numbers are being taped to the front of buildings to give cab drivers a fighting shot at locating a particular address on a particular street. (For those who have never been here, having an exact street address usually means nothing unless you know which park or bridge is immediately adjacent.)
Sure, if you’re going to Tiananmen, Sanlitun, Kerry Center, Temple of Heaven or someplace relatively well traveled, you’re going to be okay. Usually.
Sometimes cabbies just don’t want to go where you do and a common excuse is the “I don’t know that place.” I found this out one day when I wanted to cab it from Houhai to Qinghua University. True story:
Me: “Qinghua Daxue”
Driver: “I don’t know this place. How do you get there?”
Me: “Qinghua University! 2nd most famous university in China, Hu Jintao graduated from there. You don’t know it?”
Driver: (scratching head) No, I don’t know this place.
Me: (Banging head against safety cage)
I’m beginning to think that maybe it’s just me. Lots of people with nary a word of Chinese take cabs without the slightest hitch in their travels aside from the terrific traffic snarls. I guess I can always console myself that three new subway lines are opening sometime between now and the Olympic opening ceremonies. Plus: there’s always the bus.