Why am I in China? I wish I could tell you. This is not one of those, “If you knew, I would have to kill you.” Although, I will admit that after three days in China, I am inclined to kill just about anyone just because. In America, there is a stereotype of the Chinese being bad drivers. The Chinese are not bad drivers. They are, however, very different drivers from Americans. This is most notable in how close cars drive to other cars, pedestrians, and anything else that native-born American drivers would stay well away from. What’s more, they are very patient. The custom here is that if you are going to make a left turn, the oncoming traffic will slow down for you. And then there is the honking; I’ve know this for years: in China, you can drive a car without breaks, but not without a horn. This is especially important for pedestrians, for whom a honk is just shorthand for, “I’m about to run you over.”
Raining Day Taxis
My co-worker, Jim and I found ourselves a few miles from our hotel on a very rainy day. Just as in America, it is very hard to get a taxicab on a rainy day in China. Why? There are two reasons, one of which is obvious: more people want taxis when it’s raining. But this is not the main reason. It turns out that taxi drivers are contractors, and so they just work as long as it takes to make whatever their standard daily pay is. On rainy days, they reach their quota very early. So, at 5:00 pm, there are more people than usual looking for taxis and far fewer taxis.
I had no problem walking the whole way to our hotel. I lived in Portland, Oregon for a decade, after all. Just like living in California makes you immune from earthquakes below 7.0, a decade in Portland makes you immune to a rainfall rate of less than an inch an hour. But Jim did not share my history and after a few blocks his only pair of shoes were soaked through. We tried to find a taxi, and they were around, but they were all in use. So Jim mentioned that we could take a bike. These are little motorcycles you ride on the back of (and maybe the back off). And they look something like this:
It took us about 20 minutes to get the three miles to our hotel—although we were told it was only “Five stop lights”! And during the trip, I did wonder if we were going to make it back to the hotel alive. There were, after all, three adults on a tiny motorbike. Jim’s shoes got even more wet, as the driver took us so close to the edge of the road that our feet and legs were brushing the plants that line the sidewalks. And we sped through small lakes upwards of a foot deep. Jim complained the whole way back, blaming me, because I had managed to flag down this product of Chinese laissez-faire capitalism. But I was having none of it. First, as I mentioned, it was his idea. And second, everyone knows I’m a sucker for a woman in a red motorcycle helmet!
Jim had to borrow my blow-drier so he could get double the effect. I am drenched through, myself. But there is no doubt: those were the best twenty minutes of my many trips to China. You go, girl!
Andrea wants to know where in China I am. It took me three days to figure out how to use the shower because everything is in Chinese! Oh! Well, let me just look this information up on the letterhead of the hotel! Oh! That doesn’t work! It doesn’t have any English on it! I’m in southern China, about an hour away from Hong Kong in a city that is almost 15 million today but was much less than a half million 20 years ago. I believe it starts with an S. But I managed to do some research and have come to the conclusion I am in Shenzhen. But it really doesn’t matter, because China may be big, but it isn’t really diverse—at least as far as I’m concerned. Consider: like everywhere else in China, you can’t get a decent beer and no one knows how to make a vodka tonic. And I was stupid enough to ask for an Absolute and tonic!