Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cab Driving in China 2

 Chengdu, Sichuan China

Monday I went to the People's Park and, indeed, I've never seen any place more dedicated to ordinary people.

There were people skateboarding, break-dancing, playing ping-pong or putting on shows with giant yo-yos or elaborate kites. There were also 14 or 15 different musical groups singing, dancing or playing various instruments.

All of them were amateurs and most of them were retired men and women in their 50's and 60's. (Yes, I did use the words "retired" and "in their 50's or 60's") The quality varied but the performers all obviously practiced a lot and were very enthusiastic. Patriotic songs and dances from Mao's Long March were favorites - a possible response to the USA's brilliant war game (is Rumsfeld back in power?) maneuvers in the China Sea.

When I left the park, however, I couldn't get a cab. I spend over an hour and a half trying to flag one down but a hundred went by full. A guy on a motorcycle drove up and offered me a ride for three times the usual price. I turned him down and tried to get a cab for another half an hour before finally taking a ride in a regular sedan for twice the usual price. The dude didn't know exactly know how to get to my place so I got my money's worth with his round about route.

There was a line of about one hundred people waiting for cabs near my hotel. One of the few Americans I've seen, a middle-aged military type, was angrily trying to educate the local people in English as to how they should properly form a line. They ignored him of course. The Chinese know perfectly well how to form lines. They simply walk to the front. The lao wai (foreigner) finally stepped up and grabbed a taxi as a couple climbed out. A cop came over and send him back to the end of the line.

In short, it's a cab driver's paradise. About the only chance you have to get a taxi is when one drops. I don't know exactly what's going on but we had a real difficult time getting a hotel room in a city of 12 million people. Of course we are restricted to places that will accept lao wai - most hotels cater only to Chinese - and aren't Hiltons. Still, it's hard to know where all the gringos are. The army jerk is about the only other one I've seen. People turn around and stare at me as if they've never seen a Caucasian before.

My travelling companion has a different theory.

"They're looking at you because you're so ugly," she tells me.

"Then why are the young women flirting with me?"

"They want to marry you so that you'll take them to meiguo (beautiful country, America). As soon as they get their green card, they will give you too much sex. You will have a heart attack and you will die."

"Don't you think you're being too romantic?"

"I only tell the truth."

"Then again, that might not be too bad - the Irish call it the heavenly send off."

"You Irish! - You're nothing but a bunch of sex maniacs and drunks."

A possible over-simplification but there's little doubt that I'd be having more fun if my friend wasn't along. On the other hand, I'd be missing these unique insights into her native culture not to mention the culinary feasts she leads me to daily.

But, I digress.

It's hard to know how driving a cab here compares to driving in San Francisco.

Most of the drivers share long term leases with one other driver. They take turns driving 18 hour shifts every other day. That is, a driver will work 54 hours one week and 72 hours the next. They take home about 3,500 - 4,000 Yuan or 600 Dollars a month.

Most of the rides in Chengdu run about 10 Yuan. In Beijing, which is a huge city like L.A. or Houston, the average fare is more like 15 or 20 Y. The yuan is about 1/6.5th the value of the dollar. I think that the cost of living is probably consistent with the relative value of the Yuan to the dollar. Food is probably cheaper (except for fruit). At the tiny restaurants that are all over the place, you can get a breakfast of porridge, one egg and 6 dumpling for about 75 cents. You can also get a delicious dinner for two for about 3 dollars.

 Rent, on the other hand is expensive. In Beijing, housing costs relatively as much as it does in San Francisco. A driver probably pays about 200 or 300 dollars a month in rent. Of course I think there are fewer cowboy drivers in China than in SF. Most drivers here are family men and women, so there would be more than one person sharing the expenses.

This is a communist country that is supposed to give health benefits to everyone but that was in the old days. I don't think that it's too different from the US in this respect. Government workers have great benefits (especially teachers) but most other people are SOL.

Are Chinese cab drivers part of the new middle-class? I guess they are if we are. I don't think their life-style is too much different than that of the average driver in San Francisco - except most of them eat better tasting food.



  1. I happen to be in Chengdu and I think I saw you at the Kai Bing Hotel with three floors of restaurants and retail two weeks ago. Since I stayed nearby, I saw you several times with a pretty chinese woman. Was this your girlfriend? She certainly looked quite impressive but could not see her face completely because she always wore hats. If she is the kind of local woman who gravitates to you, you certainly are right about the ladies being attracted to you. Enjoying your blog and want to know if trip was expensive, cities you traveled to and how long your stay.

  2. Ed,

    I just wrote you and said I stayed by your Hotel the Kai Bing Hotel near a square in Chengdu city. The lady in the photo wearing a red dress with white hat looks like her. Is she the traveling companion you spoke of and girlfriend? Awaiting your response. Thanks

    Daniel Shafer

  3. Thats pretty amazing. If you're a cab driver, it's even more so.

    I was staying at the Kai Bin Hotel in central Chengdu and the beautiful woman was indeed my traveling companion. She is even more beautiful close up. It's like hanging out with Julia Roberts or Angelina Jolie - a boost for the ego of an ugly guy like me.

    However, she is not typical of anybody I've even met or am likely to meet. And, if you called her my girlfriend, she's probably knee-cap you. Actually, if you're willing to put up with her razor-tongue, I'll see if I can arrange an introduction. I'm sick of being whipped by it. (Joke).

    I spend most to the time in Chengdu where my friend was finishing up a a DVD but went to a remote lake on the border of Sichuan for 6 days. I'll have to look up the name. It took one day by train and one day climbing a mountain with a suicidal van driver to get there. No motors allowed. Only boats rowed by indigenous people. Beautiful. I'll be looking through the pictures today.

    Otherwise I was just in Beijing for 3 or 4 days.

    As for the expense: I was in China for 30 days and spend a total of $1,200 which included two airplane and two train rides. Thanks to my friend's knowledge to the local cuisine, I ate better than I've even eaten in my life. I hope you had the good fortune to have a similar guide.