China Checkers, Taxi drivers and Shanghai Surprise !

Ok.... so I spent some time in the Middle Country. And yes, it IS a big deal. Especially when you are Indian and a veggie. Especially when you don't speak the language. Especially when its a new job.

But the time I spent there exploring the country to the extent which I could, meeting people, seeing things, eating (or atleast trying to) stuff, understanding the culture and getting by through it all

During my first few days in Shanghai, I had to rely on the taxi service which by Indian standards are good and comfortable except for the omnipresent stench of cigarette smoke inside the cabin. Communicating with them was a blast and everytime I stepped inside a cab was a memorable occasion.

For starters, ninety nine percent of Shanghai cabbies know absolutely zero English. A few of them may know 'Good Morning', 'hello' and other perfunctory greetings, but that was the limit of their skills. The only way I could tell them where I wanted to go was by showing them a piece of paper with my destination printed in Chinese characters. Once presented to the driver, here is what would typically occur ;

  • Driver holds up the paper upside down, prompting me to orient it in the proper direction for him
  • He squints at the printing, making me think that I had printed it too small. Following this he reaches for his glasses to read it properly.
  • Once done, he repeats the street name like he is chanting an invocation to the Goddess of taxi drivers
  • He then reaches into the space near the sun visor and pulls out a much used and abused map of the city to locate the street.
  • Once done, he shoots a barrage of questions at me and when it is obvious to him that I don't understand a word, he repeats each word slowly and clearly like its supposed to be easier on me.
  • Completely frustrated, he mutters to himself, gives me a nasty look in the rear view mirror and sets off.
The first time this happened to me, I was stunned, shocked and just a little bit scared. Over a period of time, I learned to ignore all that he was saying and enjoyed the LCD display ads on back of the headrest.

I also learned that Shanghainese cabbies understand Tamil Malayalam and Kannada.... my exhortations in English yielded no effect other than a confused look him. However, they do understand Neanderthal grunts and gesticulations and once I started saying " Dae patti....inge niruthu", with a smile on my face and waving my hands around, things became very clear and much easier for driver and passenger!

As the months passed by and my Mandarin became a little bit better, the reactions from the drivers was different. They always wanted to know where we ( me and missus) were from. "Nimen shi shenme guo ren" (Which country are you from). When we said India, they would spontaneously break into a song which I thought was vaguely familiar. It went something like "Aawalagoo too dooo dooo" and ended up being " Awaara Hoon"! It turns out that movies from the 50's and 60's were quite popular as they depicted wholesome qualities of hard work, community and family which was popular with the Chinese polity of the 70s and 80s.

While I never drove in Shanghai, I had a sense of being at home, given the way cars would aggressively pass one another, take risks and spit on the streets. Pedestrians would cross at all places, cabbies would honk, overall, it felt very familiar, yet vague.

Trampled byY Trip at Thursday, October 15, 2009


A said... October 16, 2009 at 2:47 PM  

Keep this coming, it's a great read!

Sridhar said... October 19, 2009 at 4:19 PM  

nice one. :)

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