The last time I was in China, I lamented not being able to visit Hangzhou. Everyone, from my local teachers to tutors to other local students I would befriend on campus, insisted that Hangzhou was one of the most beautiful places in China to come to. It is known for being a popular holiday and honeymoon spot, and because then, it was only about four hours by bus, it wasn’t too far from Shanghai to get away to for a long weekend. Hangzhou is famous for its large and stunning West Lake, Longjing (“dragon well”) green tea, and for having a good balance of both urban life and gorgeous nature flanking it.
Well, fast forward a few years, and a high-speed train system has been built that can take you from Shanghai to Hangzhou comfortably in just under 50 minutes. We took advantage of this during our trip and did a day trip to Hangzhou today. While the city was beautiful, with lots of nature, hiking, and yes, a stunning West Lake, what I took away from the day had mostly to do with our transportation.
Chris is usually a very easy-going traveler. “Keep it moving” is one of his favorite phrases to say during our trips. He doesn’t love it when I insist on taking five different food shots of the same dish, nor does he enjoy it when I linger and take about 10 different landscape shots of the exact same angle of a scene. But when it comes to little mishaps and things that can go wrong, he’s usually very relaxed… until today. His Didi app (similar to the Uber app here, but made for China) decided to randomly flag his account for “malicious” behavior, and so we were banned from using the app to call cars to pick us up. A sea of cuss words followed, plus very obvious frustration on his face. I figured, it couldn’t be that hard to hail a cab here… I mean, everyone else uses them, right? And my Chinese is decent enough, so as long as I know the Chinese name of where we’re going, I think we should be okay, more or less.
Yeah, more or less.
The first guy I hailed who accepted us charged us about 10 yuan, or $1.50USD, for a trip outside of the hiking area to the national tea museum… or what was supposed to be. He was friendly and chatty, eager to make conversation with his American-born Chinese passenger and her brown husband… and then decided to drop us off at a tea shop that does free tastings about ten minutes-walk away from where he should have dropped us off. The more I listened to the people around me, the more I realized that cabbies were just set up this way in the area. They weren’t going to take you to the tea museum because they were getting kickbacks from these tea shops to take you there to taste and buy tea instead.
The tea museum ended up being a total dud when we did walk to and find it, though. The area where they usually do tastings was closed. Half the exhibits looked like they were in progress of being installed. And the remaining ones didn’t really mean much to me or to actual tea, but were more about art work that captured how beautiful tea leaves are supposed to look. Okay… pass.
Then, we hailed our second cab. Perhaps it was a mistake, but I accepted a ride from a cabbie who already had a passenger and his toddler child with him. He asked where I was going, I told him, and he seemed to indicate it was in the same direction, so I figured, why not just jump in? The meter was already going, and I could tell when the passenger got out of the car that this was bad. The passenger told the driver, “This isn’t where I wanted to be dropped off,” and in rushed and impatient and rough Chinese, the cabbie responds back that it’s a short walk and straight ahead, so don’t make a big fuss and just get out of the car. And, when the passenger and his son did get out of the car, the cabbie did not reset the meter…. I wanted to tell him to, but I didn’t know the word for “meter” and didn’t want him to stop the car. He tried to get us to get out at the same time, but Chris insisted we were far, far away from where we were supposed to go. So I went back and forth with the driver, insisted this wasn’t the right spot, and he finally drove us to where we wanted him to get us… but then he ended by trying to make us pay 25 yuan, which would have been the fare for our segment of the trip, plus whatever trip he had going with the previous passenger. I immediately refused.
And this is when the real fun began. We started raising our voices at each other. I yelled at him and told him I wasn’t going to pay double what the other passenger paid because he already had someone in the car when I got in. He yelled and said a ride is a ride, pay up. I told him he was trying to rip me off and I wouldn’t tolerate it. He yelled back and said I had to pay him 25 yuan. Chris yelled in English at a far higher volume than either of us and kept repeating “No! No! No!” The cabbie didn’t even know basic English and kept freaking out, as was obvious from his eyes every time he looked at Chris while Chris was yelling, asking me in Chinese repeatedly, “What is he saying? Translate it!” I ignored him and never responded. I told him I’d pay him 15 yuan. He yelled that I was crazy, and frankly, the only reason he even took me was because he thought I was a real Chinese person and not a foreign tourist. He gestured to Chris — “foreign.” Racist slime, but hey, what did I expect?
In the end, I had little leverage because I didn’t have any small enough bills, so I had to have him break my 100-yuan note. He handed me back 80, which in the end, meant that he made me pay what was halfway between what I wanted and what he wanted. I still got ripped off and did not like it, but there was little for me to do. I called him a cheap skate and got out of the car while slamming the door.
Well, I guess all those Taiwanese soap operas I watched to procrastinate on my economics homework in college paid off. I had a real fight in Mandarin with a cabbie. And I’m pretty certain that I wouldn’t have had the same vocabulary to leverage had I just used what I learned in my Chinese classes.
Hangzhou was fun and beautiful. But I think I will always look back and remember the cab experiences there.