Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Taxi Adventure in Xian

I've been meaning to post about this and in the last post, Jim alluded to our taxi adventure in Xian during the first weekend in October.

So we arrived at the Xian airport after our flight was delayed in Beijing, we collected our bags and made our way to the taxi line in front of the airport. We had printed the address of our hotel in Mandarin from the website we used to book all of our travel accomodations to give our taxi driver. (A tip given to us by other expats in the past.) The airport was about 40 km from the town, so we were anticipating somewhat of a drive to get to the center of Xian where we where staying.

As we approached the front of the line, the driver at the front was really excited to see us - which should have been a sign. Like I said, we anticiapted a drive, but the fare of the cab ride should have been considerably less than a similar ride in Shanghai, since Xian is a smaller city compared to the major metropolis of Shanghai. We saw from the sticker on the back window that the initial rate was less than that of Shanghai's; Shanghai's base rate is 11RMB, whereas I think Xian was 8RMB. (I don't recall exact numbers, because I have waited too long to post this... shame on me.)

We loaded our things into the trunk, hopped in the backseat and were headed towards the walled city of Xian. After about 7-10 minutes from my seat behind the driver, I noticed something was wrong with the meter that was supposed to be tracking our fare: the amount the fare was increasing by was not constant. At first we thought it had to do with the rate at which the driver was travelling since most cabs in China accrue fares by distance (when your moving) and time (when you are at a standstill). Maybe the cab's velocity wasn't contant, but we on a highway... and the jumps were still too sporadic for this to be the case. Sometimes the meter would increase by 2RMB, others by 7RMB (almost the base rate!), or some other amount in that range. Jim couldn't see the meter from his seat so, I was calling out the intervals the price was increasing, and we were both trying to deduce a pattern or something logical from the sequence I was muttering.

Then I noticed the meter did not have a fa piao printing from it. A fa piao is an official government issued Chinese receipt, that are used by all businesses in China; they are also used by the government to collect business taxes. Businesses pay the government their taxes and in return are given carbon triplicate booklets for the fa piaos. Taxis are given rolls what can be thought of as 'official adding machine tape' to use in the meter which are used for the fa piao. In Shanghai if a taxi driver cannot produce a fa piao, you are free to leave the taxi without paying.

So at this point in the story, we are on a highway somewhere in rural China, but near Xian, trying to deduce a pattern for the meter, find a reason as to why there is no fa piao, and figure out what our next step is. We realized that we were at the mercy of this driver until we were closer to Xian.

When we did arrive in a more densely populated area, since Jim's Mandarin is a bit better than mine, he started to tell the driver that something was wrong with the meter. The driver started talking to Jim as if he were a native Chinese language speaker, and kept driving us to our final destination.

Jim told the driver to stop the taxi, and we would get out. The driver pulled over, started to talk to us and kept the meter running, which was now around 100RMB. Jim brought up the issue of the fa piao, and the drive showed us that he had pre-printed fa piaos, similar to what you get in restaurants.

We would have just bailed and taken our stuff, except everything was in the trunk, with our passports - the only form of identification we have in China. Jim kept trying to talk to the guy and I tried to keep my blood pressure low. When the conversation of broken Mandarin wasn't going anywhere, the driver called his 'boss' who spoke English and put him on the phone with Jim.

Jim explained the situation slowly and calmly, and the boss tried to tell us we were almost there and the toll would be no more than 150RMB. (Recall the meter is still running and is now near 110RMB.)

By this time, I had had enough and decided to try something else I had learned from other expats. I pulled out my cell phone and called 110. 110 is the Chinese 911 for problems that require the police's attention. 112 is for fire, 114 for the ambulance; there are others but those are the important ones to know.

Once connected, I asked in Mandarin for someone who spoke English, and I got someone whose English was a tiny bit better, but who quickly reverted to Mandarin. So I just said "Yingyue (English)" into the phone until I got someone did speak English. I briefly and slowly explained the situation, and the man on the other end asked me to put the driver on the phone. (Jim was still on the phone with the boss.) I handed the phone to the driver and heard the police screaming at the driver. I was handed my cell phone back and told the driver was going to drive us to a taxi park and we were to only pay 100 RMB.

Jim handed the driver's phone back to him. Having quickly conversed about the situation, we decided it was best to cut our losses now. At this point I think the driver had been shamed pretty harshly by the police and was happy to end the ordeal as well. Jim paid the 100RMB, collected the fa piao and told me not to exit the taxi until he had gotten all our bags from the trunk.

Jim got the bags, I hopped out and another (legitimate) taxi was pulling up behind us. We got in and rode the rest of the way into Xian and paid another 15RMB.

Moral #1: Be wary of excited taxi drivers.
Moral #2: Always know the number of the police in a foreign country.

1 comment:

Teresa in Tunisia said...

Hey Rachel,

You guys did well! One other piece of advice for your travels there: Know the number for the Marine Post at the closest Embassy or Consulate. They are able to help you out in case something happens (ie: something that requires a lot of paperwork!).
Hope you and Jim had a nice Christmas and New Years.