I visited Dameisha beach back in 2011. It’s a resort on the South China Sea a stones throw from Shenzhen airport and Hong Kong.
It’s around 50 miles driving but hey what a crazy ride it was!
We all know taxis can be a bit of a lottery depending on what city you find yourself in. I am reminded of a very recent trip to Egypt in Sharm whereby you’re assailed by a horde of eager cab drivers all vying for trade quoting crazy prices where you barter away for the best price before settling on what you think is the best.
Well, imagine that and then add the whole absence of your first language and multiple it by 5!
We came out of the airport feeling pretty tired having raced across town in Xian to get to the airport and grab our plane. The airport itself was like most airports, pretty busy with noise and hustle and bustle we made for what looked like a taxi rank with guys in these uniforms that made them look all efficient.
We handed them a piece of paper which was a print out of the address to our hotel in Chinese (mandarin) and screen shot of a few maps outlining the location. The guy blurts out a price in RMB and is countered by someone else peering over his shoulder. One says 400 RMB and the other butts in with 350 RMB. I go with the 350 RMB and the 400 RMB guy rattles off a few insults in his best local vernacular as we’re then harassed by other touts on our walk to the waiting mercedes.
We’re not fussed, we’re in a decent looking cab and on our way to our luxury hotel and a bit of R and R.
15 minutes in to our drive the driver stops and another car pulls up. The driver holds up his hand and mutters something in Chinese to which I’m of course clueless. He then goes off to a group of smoking guys and they all talk in an exaggerated way –
We start to get a little twitchy – WTF is all this about we begin to wonder. We are then ushered out of the taxi at which point I’m on auto get ready to kick ass mode. He explains that the car we are to decant to will take us to our hotel along with a new driver. I protest but to no avail, the options are limited; we’re in the middle of nowheresville and i’m not making myself heard. What we do manage to do is ensure that new driver understands where it is we are going and that we’ve already paid Mr first cab 100 RMB.
New driver isn’t wearing a uniform and his car doesn’t look like the best either. He looks old and tired but seems fairly pleased with his new fare and destination.
We pass through nondescript buildings along winding highways in the dark of the chinese summer night and eventually arrive at our hotel. It’s at that point that the driver is surprised when I hand him the fare and he starts protesting “300 RMB, 300 RMB”
I explain to the concierge that I’d agreed a price with the original driver and detailed their curious swap routine 5 miles out of the airport whereby it’s all made clear that basically, the uniformed drivers are the only guys allowed to pick up inside the airport and they then sell their fares outside. What tends to happen is that during this transaction, the new driver is told that the agreed price is often more than what has been agreed with the passengers, especially if they’re western and chinese language deficient.
So, our driver had been told that it was a £40 fare and had probably paid a premium to driver number one for the privilege. Naturally he’s pretty pissed when I just give him £35 (400 RMB- 100RMB I gave the other driver plus 50 RMB tip) and is feeling short changed.
It all ended well as tbh I’m not in the market of seeing people worse off, especially if they’re genuine in their belief – feeling pitied by the gloom and exasperation on the drivers face I decide that he’s genuine and explain to the concierge that I’ll give the driver his 50 RMB plus an extra 50 – he leaves with a big beaming smile and maybe a more enhanced view of westerners.
The take away for me was that people by and large are no different anywhere and as had much of my prior visit to China had taught me, capitalism is alive and well!