Take me for a ride, sir.
“That cheeky bastard!”…I thought to myself.
My taxi driver was silent, driving diligently ahead. He missed the turnoff for the “quick” way to the office. He had then missed the turnoff for the “semi-quick” way to the office. And he was now driving a new way to the South, but I kept quiet and left it to him. After all, he was the “professional” and maybe he knew something I didn’t. Maybe there was traffic on the other ways or maybe this way was actually quicker, but no one ever took this way. I thought back to the map of Beijing I have stuck in my head. Beijing, much like Santa Cruz in Bolivia is laid out in rings. First Ring Road goes around Tiananmen Square, Second Ring goes through the city in a wider loop and parallels the subway, and Third Ring Road makes a much wider loop and I happen to work in the north-east corner of it. There are lots of other rings, but I never go out there – and as you can imagine, the traffic is considerably less on every ring further out.
My driver kept driving and I glanced at the meter. 32 yuan.
I was fuming, but kept my cool. The whole ride should be no more than 27 yuan at most and we weren’t even close yet. I always try to think of the story behind sayings for class and I was now experiencing the old saying, “he was taken for a ride.”
“Wo men zai nar?” (Where are we?) I asked.
“Zai nei biar,” (It’s over there,) he explained.
I pointed at the meter.
“Shenme??? 32??” I said incredulously. I shook my head in disbelief.
He just looked straight ahead in silence. I sat for a moment and quietly took out my famous pad of papers from my back pocket and wrote down his ID number and supervisors telephone number and put the pad away.
He acted as though he didn’t notice and continued driving.
By the time we arrived, the meter was at a whopping 51 yuan. That’s almost as much as it costs to go to the airport! I got out, wrote down his license plate number and got back in the car to pay him.
He silently leaned over to me and whispered, “Si Shi” (40 yuan).
At that point I knew I had him. His taxi plaque looked a bit weathered which meant he wasn’t new, so he did know the better ways. He also was down for negotiation, which meant he knew that he was in the wrong.
“Bu, wo gei ni 51” (Nope, you get 51), I said. I gave him a hundred and he gave me my change. I silently pointed at my notebook with his info on it, smirked and nodded my head.
I wasn’t quite sure if he would get in trouble. My roommate Brad had told me that they do get in trouble if you report them. So that was my plan. Hah. Like I care about 11 yuan. Berlitz pays for my taxis anyways.
When I got home, I asked Brad to call the guy in and he did. The manager apologized and said he would address the issue and get back to us the next day.
So get this…
Brad has informed me that the taxi driver has been suspended for three days from driving (and if you don’t drive, you don’t make money), they would refund my entire 51 yuan and I could even meet with the taxi driver and the manager for an apology if I wanted. He also wanted to know if he thought that punishment was sufficient…
JESUS CHRIST! This is China! Stuff like this doesn’t happen. It’s an entire country of people trying to wring money out of you for everything possible. If you get frustrated, they don’t care and will take it as an opportunity to wear you down and wear you out. You have to keep fighting. You have no power and they have no consequences. It’s a huge system of people who don’t care because if you refuse to go back, there are plenty of others who will.
Except the taxi industry, apparently. I was floored. I couldn’t believe it.
I asked Brad to relay to the manager that I didn’t want the money back – I just wanted to make sure that the driver didn’t do that to anyone else. I thought it was fitting punishment. He gets in trouble and all the other taxi drivers are on edge too. I’m sure news like that travels fast.
It’s so strange, too. Why the taxi industry? They are privately owned and from what I gather, there are many different companies running them. And you can’t distinguish between them before getting in the cab. They have no reason to try to prevent cabbies from cheating people, because you can’t, in your head, blacklist certain companies. It won’t improve business and they get nothing from the taxi drivers always driving the right course, anyway. They might actually lose money because they would driving less.
People here really are embracing western ideas, like customer service. They then apply them blindly to anything in hopes of progress. When you see a place with efficient and friendly service and quality products, you are blown away. It’s so out of place, but that is the future. Western consultants abound, this place is slowly but surely rising out of its “don’t innovate or try to make a difference” mentality installed in the people by the former hardcore communist government. People are slowly but surely being encouraged to think for themselves (to a certain extent, at least) and innovate for their own betterment and enrichment.
Anyway, I don’t think that guy will be taking me for a ride much longer. I’ll keep my pen and pad of papers on me just in case.