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The Beijing Taxi Challenge

Any foreigner who has lived in Beijing for any length of time will know how difficult it can be to hail a taxi, especially at peak hours. Its a game of cat and mouse and taxi drivers have become adept at not making eye contact with the person trying their best to wave, dance, signal, jump, plead on the side of the road. In the recent past drivers have taken it upon themselves who they will allow into their hallowed vehicles. If you don't look like someone the driver approves of, rest assured he will put pedal to the metal and zoom off in utter disdain, after having given you the once over and the vacant stare of indifference. So before you spend hours on the side of the road in mounting frustration, there are ways of lowering the odds on getting a khaki and green taxi to stop for you.

Wherever possible make sure you do your stretched arm wave in the same direction as the taxi is traveling, and if you are with a friend, than double up your chances and each stand on opposite sides of the street.

And if you do get a taxi to stop, get in the car door as fast as possible and sit down with a determined look on your face and your destination either written clearly in Chinese on a piece of paper or on your cellphone. You might get a driver who will not want to go where you are heading and then tell you with an innocent face that he doesn't know your location. Should this happen and you are off to one of the well known foreigner hangouts around the city, the driver is actually telling you he doesn't want to go to such a busy location. Behind every explanation is a double meaning. If at all possible try to head for a 5 star hotel, or a food street as taxi's are more likely to be cruising around those locations – and avoid waiting on the side of busy main roads – quieter side streets are a much better bet. You could also try to travel with a Chinese friend, let them hail a cab and then come out from under the shadows and hop in. Yes, this is a game of wits and all tricks are fair play. If your destination is too close or too far, chances are you will be given a gruff growl and negative shake of the head, and remember the rule if you are waiting with a crowd - the first person through the taxi door wins. One sure way of endearing yourself to a taxi driver is calling him shifu (master) and when you do get settled comfortably in the back seat you could even be surprised by your shifu trying out his English on you. Forget about catching a taxi during rain or snow – and instead use the ubiquitous bus facilities or the world's most extensive subway line, both cheap and entertaining – if you enjoy people watching. And if all else fails then get your leg over, work up a sweat and cycle your way through the gridlock to arrive exasperated and early at your destination.

Posted by Francisco Little on 4/22/13

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