It’s 3 a.m. on a Saturday night and you’re on the side of the road trying a hail a taxi. You’ve had a bit too much 100 proof “bai jiu,” or some other poison of your choosing, and you just want to go home. You think you’re in luck as a taxi with its red “vacant” light on slows down and veers toward you. But as it approaches, it suddenly speeds up and drives away, leaving you in the dust, angry and cursing the driver in your native tongue. If you have ever visited Beijing and look like a foreigner, this has probably happened to you.
Taxi drivers in this city don’t like stopping for foreigners because they assume they don’t speak Chinese and don’t want to deal with the hassle of communicating with them. During a conversation, a taxi driver told me how he once drove a group of foreigners to the wrong side of town because of a miscommunication. There was a huge argument after which the driver was only paid half the cab fare. I’m guessing other cab drivers have similar horror stories, which, like folklore or urban legends, become more and more terrible with each telling. Thus, my foreign-looking friends and I sometimes resort to a bait-and-ambush strategy when we need to hail a cab. A Korean or Vietnamese friend or I flags down a taxi and gets in first. Then, much to the surprise of the driver, everyone else then emerges from the bushes and follows.
It’s unfortunate that foreigners, even those who speak Chinese well, are subjected to this kind of prejudice. On the flip side, if you’re a visitor in a foreign city, it’s to everyone’s advantage that you know how to communicate your destination, or at least have it written down for the driver to read!
If you don’t feel like hiding in the bushes, you can just skip taxis—and the notorious Beijing traffic—and opt for one of the many other modes of green transportation. The subway system in Beijing is incredibly clean and trains run frequently. However, subway cars are chronically packed, often resembling the 6 p.m. train at Grand Central during rush hour. A major inconvenience with the Beijing subway is that the last train leaves at 11 p.m. The subway fare will only set you back two yuan, but if you have an especially tight budget or prefer to stay above ground, the bus is even cheaper at a measly 0.4 yuan, with a transportation smart card. If you want to go even greener, you can just bike to your destination. The mass adoption of cars is a relatively recent thing in Beijing, not too long ago bicycles and scooters ruled the streets. Although car ownership—which is as much a status symbol in China as it is a means of transport—has ballooned in recent years, you can still see many cyclists on the dedicated bike paths throughout the city.
Now to leave you with something completely unrelated to transportation. Yesterday was 11/11, which means “guang gun jie,” or Singles Day, which was unofficially celebrated by university students all over China. Chinese people put great significance on dates—major events in Chinese history are often referred to by date rather than given names—so it’s no surprised that this holiday is derived from the appearance of its date: ever noticed how lonely the 1’s in 11/11 look as compared to a date like 6/28, which consists of nice, full, curvaceous numbers? On this day, singletons everywhere come together and eat out, sing karaoke, go dancing, and partake in other shenanigans to celebrate the single life.