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Beijing taxis and the directionally challenged…progress made?

Today I flagged a cab to head over to the new US Embassy (a building with  all the charm of a medium-security prison for Midwestern tax cheats glorious symbol of American freedom, F–k yeah!)  and my driver was perplexed even though I had carefully explained in Chinese how to get there.  Now this is hardly unusual as I have long lamented in this space, but what was remarkable was this particular driver had with him…a map!  In fact, he had a whole book of maps.  This was a huge step up from the driver earlier this week who took three tries to find the Third Ring Road…

In the end, we didn’t actually need the map (I knew the way) but I was impressed at this level of preparedness on the part of a taxi professional.

Progress? Perhaps.

23 Comments on Beijing taxis and the directionally challenged…progress made?

  1. Hey! Some of my best friends and relatives are Midwestern tax cheats. What gives?

  2. Yes, but could he read the map? This has happened to me before, one instance in Taiyuan springing to mind, in which the driver whipped out his map but clearly had no idea how to read it.

  3. Why on earth, Jeremiah, are you always taking (and then complaining about) taxis?

    Does the city not have public transportation? I imagine there must be subways and buses like Tokyo. I don’t think I ever took a taxi in Tokyo and only rarely in HongKong.

    Beijing might be hard to bike around– though Tokyo for the most part is very walkable and cyclable. I only ask why because I am curious about your concept of progress!!

    Or maybe Beijing is like Taipei and really you do need taxis?

    Anyway, just wanted to say hello (in my usual manner I suppose)

  4. Didn’t know 女人街? I once had a guy who didn’t know 潮阳门外大街, said he’d come to town from Shandong with a fare and was trying to make cash while waiting for the return trip.

  5. Peony, Beijing has an excellent and constantly improving public transport system and is also very good for cycling.

  6. Okay, so the comments started well but it looks to turn into one of those kind of things, let me state for the uninitiated:

    1. I’m (mostly) kidding here. My rants about taxis are a bit of running joke on the blog, among my friends, and in the house.

    2. I usually do take public transportation to work even though it takes 80 minutes to go by subway/bus and 20 minutes by taxi. Sometimes, though, I brave the vicissitudes of taxi service here when I’m short on time.

    3. The other day, when this occurred, I had 35 minutes to go completely across town and back again. Not going to happen on the bus.

    Taxis are getting better…and when “knowing how to get there” becomes part of the services on offer it will be even more excellent.

    Graham, never mind Shandong, most drivers from Huairou or Miyun are way over their shoulders when it comes to finding even the most “well-known” streets.

    Finally, as far as I’m concerned, the more people ride public transportation the more developed a city feels. Beijing’s got a car culture case of affluenza at the moment, picked up from the virulent strain we’ve developed in the US, and it’s not doing the urban landscape a lot of good.

  7. I visited the embassy last week too. When I enquired as to the architecture I was informed that the concept of the design is that though modern, the building is meant to seem like a historical find. So you walk in and the place is like an ancient treasure (great wall like).

    Something to ponder.

  8. He had a MAP?? Sounds like Beijing really has changed since I lived there.
    And Peony, why for heaven’s sake would you need a taxi in Taipei? Basically all of Taipei city is covered by the MRT, with the exception of Neihu… and unless you live there or are a software programmer that probably won’t bother you. And even if it did there’s a plethora of buses. You simply can’t compare this city to Beijing, where large swaths of the city are still very far from subway stations.

  9. Hi JP

    It may not have seemed like it, but I was actually asking a question. I have never been to beijing so I wondered (I didn’t realize Jeremiah was doing the charming expat “joking” thing, I thought he was serious– what do I know anyway? Chris answered my honest question though)

    But yes, in both Taipei and Kaoshiung there were times when I did need to use taxis, but in both cities I was not very conveninetly located. Software programmers… sounds interesting.

    I also recall using a taxi once in tainan. I don’t recall why but I put the seatbelt on and when I unfastened the belt to get out, the belt had left a stain of black dirty on my white dress. I couldn’t get it out and it was not just the lap belt but the whole thing so I spent a day in Tainan with a seatbelt stained white dress…. I as not a happy woman that day either– though I adore Tainan.


  10. Peony,

    This is kind of what I mean…it’s not “expat joking”…it’s joking. If I was taking a taxi to Fenway Park (in Boston) and the cabbie couldn’t find it, I’d write a little rant about that too. Probably a much longer one.

    Every week I write 3-4 1000-word posts on history where I’m (mostly) serious and one or so little rants a month where I’m (mostly) joking.

    And to some extent, I’m with you on the expat rant thing. It can get tiresome, but at the same time…as a part of living, you run into things which can be frustrating. 99% of them don’t make it into this space. This one did.

    I get the feeling though that you would have it so I unquestioningly accept all aspects of my life here with a smile and a wave. Taxis get lost, no problem, it’s their culture. Little children defecate on my front stoop? Isn’t that cute and it’s part of their culture. Poor bastard gets 10-years for writing an essay criticizing government corruption? Well, he should have known better, that’s part of their culture.

    I’m not sure how my “charming expat joking” thing was any different from your little rant about dirty seatbelts in Tainan. You may adore Tainan (and I love China) but aren’t you worried that in your unhappiness you were subconsciously imposing a Western notion of automotive hygiene on somebody whose culture does not accept those values as universal?

    Which is why I say: Long Live the Revolution, Auto Detailing for All!

    And yes, I’m (mostly) joking.

  11. No dear, I am not worried since my anger never spilled into supercilious ranting about “Taiwanese Taxi drivers”. Sorry, but it did not.

    In fact, I was only pissed off that I chose to wear a white dress to tainan that day. That is it. As to the rest, I am with you in your revolution.

  12. For the record, I with my ride to Chaowai I was mostly interested that the guy had a fare in from wherever it was and decided to go about his business anyway. As the son of a geographer, I’m very much in favor of maps, anyway.

  13. One of the (many) reasons I moved from Beijing to Taipei was because of the superior public transport, so I was kindof shocked to see someone suggest Taipei required taxis… unless you’re in a few select neighborhoods, you’re almost certainly within a twenty minute walk of a subway station- which is partly because Taipei is pretty small.
    The taxis in Beijing really were a big pain for me; I’m afraid I was no where nearly as good humored as Jeremiah about them. Unfortunately they were often essential. I’m curious what it’s like now that Lines 5 and 10 have opened though.

  14. J B

    Line 5 and Line 10 change the landscape considerably. I couldn’t live where I do without Line 5. Line 10 actually drops me closer to the campus, but has so many stops that it actually takes longer than my current route. 5 – 2 – Bus.

    Looking forward to Line 4 (Xicheng –> Haidian), that will be nice.

  15. I’m looking forward to the 2 lines that should go right past my place- 4 and 9, I believe- as well as the southern extension to Line 10. Line 10 is great, and its southern terminus is nearby, but the extension will only add to its awesomness, and all the planned new lines will open up new worlds of public transport ecstasy.

    As for taxis, my first week in Beijing was terrible- fully half the taxis I hailed (needed them at the time, sorry) refused to take me, half the others had no idea where I wanted to go and I had to direct them (hello! I’m the one new to the city!). Since then, apart from a few run-ins, mostly minor, mostly in scum-attracting areas, I’ve had very few problems.

    Peony, I’m inclined to believe Jeremiah’s ‘not an expat rant, just a rant’ plea. I also note his somewhat sarcastic description of America’s new embassy.

    Jeremiah, incidentally: What language would one need to communicate with a Boston taxi driver? Just curious, having seen too many silly jokes on the subject in American films.

  16. Beijing cab drivers are, and I am NOT kidding here, the most directionally challenged cab drivers of any city in the world, at least any city to which I have been. They are far worse than Shanghai drivers (who actually usually know where things are).

  17. yeah, i was sort of surprised with the taipei cab comment as well. there are only a few places there you ever need to catch a cab (ikea, songshan train station, neihu) in thi city; the MRT is amazing, and getting like 5 new lines in the next couple of years. between that and busses, there are very few parts of the city that require a cab.

  18. Hi Wu Ming,

    Yeah, I did in fact use cabs in both cities I lived in in Taiwan. But… that is partly where I was living in both places but also I wasn’t there as long as other cities I have lived– so my own ignorance or taking time to get to know the public transportation system was behind the comment. Sorry about that. Cheers.

  19. was it back before 2000? the difference between pre-MRT and post-MRT taibei were huge, i used to dread going up there just to sit in parking lot traffic while the meter ran.

    tainan still doesn’t have anything, to my knowledge.

  20. Maybe you use taxis more than me. Maybe you travel in the “wrong” parts of town (it seems a lot of drivers in the outer suburbs, especially in the south, don’t like to come inside the 3rd or 4th Ring, or just don’t like picking up laowai in general). Maybe you just have really bad luck.

    I only encounter this kind of problem fairly rarely now. Not never, but rarely.

    I think the taxi service in Beijing – both in the quality of the cars and of the drivers – is way better than it was 5 or 6 years ago.

    Do you remember those dark days when we were all so poor we’d only take a Xiali?

  21. Wu Ming, if your comment was directed to me, yes, it was pre-2000 in both cities…. and Tainan. They all had buses though– which I struggled to get the hang of, but I wasn’t in either city long enough really to master public transportation. Are you there now? or back Home in your walkable city there (I spent 2 months in Davis without a car). It was great– except the HEAT!!!!!

  22. I’m with froog: rarely encounter the know-nothing cabbies these days. Not inside the second anyway. Once though I got one who didn’t know how to get from sanlitun to Chaoyangmen. All he could say was – 我不认识路

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