1/21/2009

Studying China Tip 1: Taxi Drivers

I rarely take taxis. For someone who's ancestors were uniformly Catholic, I have a very Protestant stinginess about taxis. I especially rarely take taxis by myself. In Canada, I typically walk across the length of Victoria, over the course of three hours even if the only other option is to take a taxi. But I have always had a great affection for cabbies as a profession. More relevantly, I think it's important for everyone who lives in China to talk to cabbies as much as possible to find out the pulse on the street, and also pick up some fun new vocabulary and ways of speaking.

I was reminded about that again today, when my cabbie expressed his apathy towards Chinese New Year and then chastised me for using such an (already!) old fashioned word as 对象 (partner) when the conversation about family jumped into the more fun conversation of relationships. He's not the first person to correct me on the latter part, but my excuse is I'm just so conditioned by (modern feminist) English to find gender neutral words for things... meh. The first part, the expressing apathy, even discontent towards Chinese New Year, is just very refreshing, in that was the first Chinese person I've ever known, of many many Chinese people, who've straight out said, I'm not excited about Chinese New Year and I don't like it either. In my limited experience, taxi drivers here shoot from the hip. It's nice, since no fault of their own, most other ordinary Chinese folk have a hard time striking up a conversation with a foreigner. Cabbies have no such qualms.

In the case of two most liberal conversations that I've had with PRC citizens, both naturally were taxi drivers. The first was chain-smoking, cellphone gripping, girly pop music listening, bit of a creeper who opened up to me actually (it's amazing how people have 2 reactions with foreigners, completely open or completely closed) and told me about his bitter disappointment in his inability to find a girl in his native town (Xi'an), saying some choice things about Xi'an girls which aren't fit for translation and then went on to add that he was thinking of moving down to Hunan. "Why?" Asked I. Because of the big (he lets go of the wheel entirely to gesture) titties. He smiles lightly and turns up the radio to blast more Avril Lavigne through the speakers.

The second was a different kind of liberal, probably the kind you thought of first. I apologize. I asked a cabbie in Chengdu what he thought of the government response to the earthquake, and he expressed the most anti-government sentiments I've ever heard here... he called the leaders of the country fakes and when I noted that this was even far harsher then anything I've heard overseas Chinese say, this caused another tirade about how the overseas Chinese had just ran away once they had enough wealth instead of helping the people that allowed them to gain that wealth in the first place. Now I don't agree with what he said, but isn't it nice to hear people openly criticizing the government every now and then? Reminds you how much it's missed.

For the followers of social trends, anthropologists especially, a lot of modern thinkers are very invested in this idea of "the anthropology of space and place" and I think it boils down not to an intellectual discussion of theories of subjectivity and symbolism. No, it's down to the thought that we have when we walk into a space that so many others have inhabited: a train station, the white house, parliament... "what if these walls could talk." The beauty of cabbies is that they will.

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