Yesterday, Julianne and I made our first real foray out into the city of Changsha on our own. We decided to do it by taxi because Julianne’s foot is still recovering, and we don’t have a map of the city’s bus routes (whether or not one is available in English is something we’re trying to find out too).
Our taxi driver on the way to Yuelu Mountain was good. I pointed at a map we have and he said something fast in Chinese, and I responded in polite English. When I said “Okay?” with my thumb pointed up to signal an affirmative that he understood where we wanted to go he was cool with it.
I’ll write another post later about our actual trip experience at the mountain–this post is about the taxi ride home.
We had to wait about five minutes before a free taxi drove past where we were waiting beside the Xiangjiang River and nearby bridge we had been driven across to get to the mountain. I knew exactly where we were, and what route the driver should take to get us home.
This is not what happened.
After showing the driver the map, and where we wanted to go, he nodded in the affirmative. We got in and that’s when the problem began.
He drove towards the bridge that was only about 500 meters away, and then suddenly did a U-turn–and I sat there in shock because I knew in my gut he was trying to drive up the fare. The idiot was actually driving in the OPPOSITE direction of the bridge, and more importantly the general opposite direction of our destination. Why he was doing this when I had a MAP in my hand I don’t know. Maybe he thought all foreigners are stupid and can’t read maps?
All he had to do was drive up to the bridge, cross it over the river, and then keep going straight about 10 blocks to our destination . . . and yet he was going the OPPOSITE DIRECTION!
I sat there and said to Julianne that we were going the wrong direction. She told me she thought there was another bridge farther down the river. I looked at the folded map sitting in my lap and opened it up to a much bigger portion of the map to see what was several grid reference boxes away: yes, there was another bridge but it was something like 3-4 kilometers away in the WRONG DIRECTION.
Now I realize I’m partly to blame in this as I haven’t learned the Chinese Mandarin for saying “stop,” “go straight,” and “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?” but then, we’ve been waiting for the insane holiday schedules to finish so we can start tutoring with a friend of a friend and study consistently without constant breaks due to holidays and what not. The language is so different that even if we had been studying and practicing I doubt our pronunciation, and more importantly the different types of tonal inflections each word must have, would have been understood–and in this case I imagine a deliberate I-can’t-understand-anything-you’re-saying-because-you’re-foreign would have suddenly infected our driver too.
I should have tapped the guy on the shoulder and told him not to do the u-turn, and to keep going straight–but it happened really fast and then we were going the wrong way. I was also trying to give him the ‘benefit of the doubt’–and boy was that STUPID of me! My rationale was that perhaps he knew a faster way to get to our destination. Maybe he knew the other bridge still had a huge traffic jam like it did when we crossed it the first time, and that another bridge would be faster . . . I was WAY WRONG!
Not only did this driver take us the opposite direction from the closest bridge and most direct route, but after crossing the river he kept driving further away from the most direct route on the other side of the river!
I told Julianne to prepare herself for me telling the driver that I was only going to pay him the same amount that we paid on our way to the mountain. I got out the money, got out my map, and rehearsed in my head how I was going to use very basic English, gestures, and drawing the route we SHOULD have taken on the map versus the rip-off route the driver had taken us on the map.
When the driver finally got us to our destination the meter was DOUBLE the price we had paid on our way to the mountain. Oh yeah, and he also had us on the wrong side of the street with a barrier in the middle which meant he had to go several more blocks away from our destination in order to do another u-turn to then go back to where we should have been driven–at that point, I told him no, stop, and gestured vigorously to pull over.
I got out of the taxi, and then made sure Julianne was out too. I then opened up the map, pointed at the driver and the route he had taken us, and then pointed at the route he should have taken. I then handed him a little more than half of the meter fare (hoping that he wouldn’t throw a fit or start screaming and yelling at me in Chinese), and said in English, “That’s all you’re getting.”
The f’cker laughed at me–he looked at me, looked at my map, and with full awareness and a brazen display of ‘What are you gonna do about it?’ attitude he LAUGHED . . .
I gave him a look of disgust, and walked away.
I’ve been ripped off before by taxi drivers in South Korea, and for much more money than the 7 yuan extra that I let him have . . . but I’ve NEVER had a driver laugh in my face when being confronted about his behavior.
Caveat emtor with a twist: Let the expat traveler in China beware taxi driver rip-offs.