Illegal Taxi in China: An Ode to Cellphones
I’m back in Lin’an now. The weather was a shock as I went from the 85 degree Bali temperature to about 40 or so degree China temperatures. As my nephew Chris said, “That doesn’t sound so bad.” And this morning as I was racing to my 8 a.m. class on my bike, I could smell the blossoming fruit trees (plum, I think). Spring is coming with its changes and the new growth.
One really good reason for being happy to return to Lin’an is that my nephew Chris and his wife Val, who were married in June in St. Louis, were coming to visit us in Lin’an. Having Chris and Val here was really fun. They, however, started with an exciting trip from Shanghai.
We’d all come in to China on a Friday, but I’d landed in Hangzhou and they late in the afternoon in Shanghai, so we decided the best thing was for them to spend the night in Shanghai and then they were to take a direct bus from Shanghai to Lin’an on Saturday morning. One of my students had written the directions out for them in Chinese, but the South Station in this city of 17 million people is huge, a terminal for both buses and trains. So it’s not too surprising that they couldn’t find the right counter in , and they missed the morning bus. They decided to come by taxi.
They had negotiated a price of 1300 yuan (about $200 for a three-hour trip to get to my school) when another taxi driver came over, picked up one of their suitcases and started hitting the first cab driver with it in order to get Chris and Val to take his cab. That should have been a sign that something wasn’t quite right, but they had jet lag and just wanted to get on with their trip. They got into the second driver’s cab.
When they were somewhere still outside Hangzhou, over an hour from Lin’an, the taxi driver said he didn’t know where to go. He wanted Chris and Val to pay him and get out of his cab. He said he would he would get another taxi to bring them on to my school. Right.
Luckily, we had each other’s cell phone numbers. One of the first things Chris and Val had done after they landed was buy a China sim card for their phone. There is the problem that Chris, Val, and I don’t speak Chinese and the driver spoke very limited English, but when Chris called me with the situation, I ran the two flights down my apartment stairs out into the road and stopped the first passing student to give directions to the taxi driver. The driver resumed the trip, but soon again insisted that Chris and Val get out of his cab because he didn’t know where the school was. Well, hello, he is Chinese, knows the language, and had taken them in the cab to bring them to Lin’an. It took me two more trips down the stairs, waylaying two other students, who gave further instructions. We finally told the driver that he would not get paid unless he dropped Chris and Val off where they could actually see me. We threatened to go to the police. (I feel very confident about that since we know Officer Wang). I asked Chris to record the driver’s license information that legal drivers post on their dashboards (The driver had no such license). Chris and Val had already figured out they would not both get out of the car until their luggage was out on the street. We saw later at the gate to ZAFU that the taxi did not have a license plate on it either.
If it hadn’t been for our cell phones and the students here on campus who can speak Mandarin and English, the taxi ride is likely not to have turned out well for Chris and Val. But arrive they did. After we gave him the agreed upon price, the driver started yelling at us. The ZAFU students at the gate looked at him in shock. We don’t know what he said, but it doesn’t matter, Chris and Val arrived safely and now know to look for licensed taxis. We also know to keep our cell phones charged.