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Let's take a taxi

Updated: 2012-12-14 09:49

Let's take a taxi

It is rare to be ripped o by Chinese taxi drivers. Most always take the direct route. SHEN JINGWEI / FOR CHINA DAILY

Follow this guide for a smooth ride in a Beijing taxi.

When traveling in China, taxis are one of the first things you'll encounter. They're cheap, easy to find, and come in many shapes and sizes.

Big cities like Beijing and Shanghai have modern fleets with strict protocol and well-trained drivers. The Olympics and Expo 2010 have bred a new cab culture in which drivers are competing to provide the best service possible — strikingly different from just a few years earlier.

One driver in Shanghai bought dozens of MP3 players and handed them out to his fellow cab owners. He thought this was a great investment. The music, he was convinced, would soothe passengers and make the ride more enjoyable.

Beijing cabbies, meanwhile, are renowned for their friendly banter. They'll talk to you about almost anything — maybe offering their opinions on Canadian exports or describing why they love Hawaiian ukulele music so much.

But this doesn't mean that all cabs are pleasant. Even though these drivers are encouraged to study English, don't count on them being able to understand you.

Always make sure you have your address written in Chinese characters, and make sure your driver knows your destination. If they seem unsure, and you're also unsure, it is always safer to wait for the next car.

Local dialects can also pose a problem. Riding a cab to a friend's apartment the other day, I found that the only way my driver could understand me was if I spoke with a good Beijing growl.

It is rare now, in Beijing and Shanghai especially, to have a taxi driver try to "take you for a ride" and cheat you. Most always take the most direct route. But if the ride seems too long, and if the price is getting too high, say something. Tell them what the price should be; they will usually stop the meter at that number.

If you have any grievances, or the driver doesn't cooperate, take down the driver's ID number and call the complaint hotline on the passenger seat dashboard.

No matter what happens, get in the habit of taking receipts. You can use these to make complaints and — this is really important — retrieve anything you left in the taxi.

You also want to look out for what are called "black taxis" or heiche (黑车 hē chē). They sometimes approach you at the airport, outside malls and at universities. You can spot them because they drive regular cars, usually without meters, and shout "坐车吗,朋友?" (zuò chē ma, péng yǒu? "Want a ride, my friend?")

These are not licensed cabs, they tend to drive dangerously, are more likely to rip you off, and you won't be covered by their insurance in case of an accident. We urge you not to ride with them! Language tip

For many years in China, people would say 打的 (dǎ di) to mean "take a taxi". This came from Hong Kong, where the 的 is pronounced "dee" — sounding something like the "ee" sound in the English word "taxi". Later, 的 was used to refer to taxis in the rest of China.

Cab drivers were called 的哥 (dí gē), or "dee brother", and motorbike-taxis are still called 摩的 (mó di).

But be warned, 咱打的吧, or "let's take a taxi", the phrase you might see in a text book, is starting to go out of fashion. Lately it is becoming more and more common to use the word 出租车 (chū zū chē) or "rent-out-vehicle" when speaking about cabs.

Courtesy of The World of Chinese, www.theworldofchinese.com

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