I have at this point given up on this being anything short of a shit blog largely about my massive dislike about China. And even I recognize that I, justly or not, tend to lean towards pinning the blame onto China. I won’t apologize for that, as it is largely how I see things. But every now and again something happens that make me realize that there is simply a cultural gulf that cannot be easily traversed. As with all my anecdotes, let me give you some needless background in the form of two separate stories from my past.
When I was just barely a teenager a friend of mine told me that one would get colon cancer if you waited too long to go to the bathroom. Now, considering that the last I heard of this friend he was in prison for holding up a CVS for Oxycontin (America, fuck yeah!), I have long since ceased believing in this fact. But it crosses my mind every time I need to use the bathroom, and despite my best attempts at rationality, the thought seems to hitch a ride on my hypochondria every time I need to use the bathroom, and so it finds itself right on the forefront of my consciousness. Normally this isn’t a problem; after doing the Camino de Santiago I thought I could sit anywhere and just go. But then I arrived in China and found that here, the shitholes are real shitholes. As if to undo the progress I made on my Spanish pilgrimage, I have no returned to the point where I would prefer to cork it and use the bathroom in my home all the while trying to deal with my hypochondria the best that I can. Bathrooms in China are, largely, unfathomable place where even Cthulu fears to poo.
So last night I got out of a restaurant and felt a desire to use the bathroom. So after a few minutes I manage to hail a cab. I give the guy my address and he doesn’t want to take me to my house. Apparently, this guy doesn’t like money, and thus I should find another cab. Normally I would be thrilled to see some evidence of China’s purely theoretical communism, where even a cab driver is well-off enough to turn down a perfectly good customer. But at this point my desire to use the bathroom had escalated to pretty dangerous levels. I was having none of this man’s lips. So I played the dumb foreigner card, and as the man kept telling me to fuck off, I kept repeating the address and showing it to him on my phone, making him think that I was misunderstanding. If he wanted me out of the cab, he’s have to fucking pull me out. And it worked, he started to drive me home.
Before I go on with the story let’s travel back in time to 2008. I was living in Thessaloniki, Greece. There is a Greek peculiarity that is pretty easily circumvented with a bit of attention paying. When the Greeks want to say ‘Yes’ with a gesture, they won’t nod, but move their head slightly down and (if I recall correctly) slightly to the right. It’s a fairly subtle gesture. TO make matters worse, when a Greek wishes to gesture ‘No’, they will shoot their head slightly upwards. Obviously, this can be misconstrued as a nod to those not paying much attention. Which is exactly what happened one afternoon when a group of American I knew asked me for help getting a taxi. I told the driver where they needed to go, he nodded ‘no’, and these kids piled into the taxi and insisted he get moving. Just for funsies, I tagged along with. I cannot imagine a more punitive taxi driver. Normally the 15 min taxi driver merely meant grabbing Thessaloniki’s beltway for a few stops, and the fair worked out to be pretty cheap. But seeing as how this driver had no desire to go out that way, he drove us East to West, through the city, at times going out of his way to put us into the worst Thessalonian traffic the city could provide. When, and hour and a half later, we arrived at our destination the bill due to this man was exorbant. The best part was that he never showed his anger. From the minute he realized that these foreigners were to stupid to realize he had said no, he only tried to insist minimally before attempting to make this fare maximally beneficial for himself. I am pretty sure he even thanked us come the end of it. That man, really understood how to be punitive.
As for last nights Chinese cabbie? He didn’t know how to be punitive. When it finally dawned on him that I was too stupid to get out of his cab, the pressure for me to use the bathroom was pretty severe. I wanted to get home kind of badly. And he wanted me to rue the day I ever got into his taxi, and thus took off like a bank robber on his way home from work. If you had told me that this guy’s goal in life was to give Dale Earnhardt Jr a massive erection, I would have believed you. He ran red lights. He swerved in and out of lanes. He made break-neck turns at major intersection without ever leaving fifth gear. He cut off other drivers. He nearly killed pedestrians. He broke whatever precious few traffic laws this country has. He drove so quickly that my vision blurred, the world went 1980’s Japanese animation and suddenly I was in an episode of Speed Racer. I wanted to kiss the fucking bastard when I realized that what was normally a fifteen minute ride was about to get accomplished in a little over five. I reckon he imagined me to be nauseated. Far from it, I was sitting in the back seat amazed at what wonderful time we were achieving, and trying to figure the amount of tip this man was earning himself (normal price – price paid = driver’s tip). We got there, the guy got a 45% tip, and from the bottom of my heart I thanked the guy for what was singularly the best damn cab ride I have ever gotten, hands down.
But as the guy was driving me home, his rage spilling over into mutterings and cursing as he swerved around every oncoming obstruction, I wondered about this man’s attempt to be punitive. Did he think he was punishing me by being recklessly efficient at his job? What then did he consider a good job at being a taxi driver if not getting me home quickly and for not a lot of money? This would remain a mystery. Just one of those cultural difference.