It’s common knowledge that the most frustrating experience in the world is trying to find a taxi anywhere in China at 5pm. It’s a dual force at work. A billion people are getting off of work and need a taxi and the other 350 million (or as we call them here, taxi drivers) are right in the middle of a horribly placed, strategically annoying shift change. Supply and demand explodes and available drivers switch into hyper-selective mode, only accepting passengers who are on their route. The result is a pile up of wannabe passengers waving at every taxi driver who in return offers one of three responses: 1. The complete ignore 2. The “no no” wave or 3. (and this one is the worst because it offers such hope and then crushes it) the window roll down “where to?” followed by the “no no” wave. Add cold weather, heavy groceries or small children to test your ability to survive lethally high blood pressure.
Another natural result is that drivers (who are now holding all of the cards) will “double up.” That is, even though you have finally landed a ride they will stop, roll down your window, lean over your lap and ask other potential customers where they are going. On the way? “hop in, I just have to drop off this foreigner first.” Not on the way? “no no” wave.
Tonight I was rejected only a few times before a compassionate cabby told me to hurry up and get in. As we passed through an area that was completely saturated with dejected passenger hopefuls my guy slowed down for two sets of young ladies to offer hope and then crush it with his “no no” wave. This was the conversation that followed:
Quick Chinese Lesson: One of the terms for taxi driver is “siji” however, foreigners (like myself) often use the wrong tone when pronouncing and inadvertently call the driver a “dead chicken.”
Siji: (elbowing me) Did you see those girls? They were very pretty.
Me: (laughing and thinking, “You leaned over my lap to talk to them through my window, how could I not?) Yes I saw them.
Siji: I was hoping to give them a ride.
Me: So if they weren’t pretty you wouldn’t have stopped?
Siji: Exactly right. Chinese girls are very pretty.
Me: (thinking, since we’re in China couldn’t you just call them girls) hmmm.
Siji: Yeah, foreign girls are too fat.
Siji: (showing me with his hands) They have really fat legs.
Me: (biting my lip) Yes. Yes I suppose some of them do.
Siji: Is your wife Chinese?
Me: No. She’s American.
Me: She’s not fat though. She’s also very beautiful.
Siji: hmmm. . . You speak good Chinese.
Me: No, not really. Just a little
Me: So . . . this is my stop (exchange money)
Siji: Good night.
Me: Good night Dead Chicken.