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Taxi Driver Dictionary

Let me introduce Shanghai Da Zhong Taxi Driver Number 178824. He’s a chap with a nervous smile and a slightly anxious disposition, and he passes the time at traffic lights and between fares by studying a bit of English. Like many taxi drivers, he figures that learning English could potentially make his life easier with all those foreign passengers and even bring about unexpected opportunities. English is seen as a kind of passport to better work and higher pay, perhaps as a private driver.
But driver 178824 isn’t interested in any old basic ‘hello, goodbye, turn left, turn right’ English. He has decided to concentrate only on words that he finds intensely interesting. Written on flash cards, in alphabetic order, the English word is followed by the Chinese equivalent, and the phonetic pronunciation. Not quite what I was expecting when he handed them over for me to see. 
His lists run to the medical (haemuresis, myocarditis, hepatitis), the political (Hague, hakenkreuz – the German word meaning swastika, American consulate) and the esoteric (hanky-panky, mercurial).
Other than the listed words, which he read phonetically and slowly, he spoke not a single word of English. I was both intrigued and enormously impressed. Unlike most language students, he had decided to just jump right in at the deep end, and see where it led him.
I gave him a short list of H words of my own – hocus pocus, hoi polloi, hurricane and hegemony. And another of M words – mysterious, mythical, mercenary and machiavellian. Wonder what he’ll make of those?

Happy Shanghai Honeymoon

It’s great to be back! Sure, it’s a pain having to shower five times a day to keep that sweaty, dusty, grimy feeling under control, and it’s melting outside, but I stepped out the door and thought ‘Wow! What a great place to live! The people! All 20 million of them! The unusual blue sky!’ 
I was clearly having some kind of Shanghai honeymoon period, which came abruptly to an end when I got knocked over by an angry Chinese woman on a motor scooter in the middle of a pedestrian crossing. Who thought that it was my fault. Clearly it was, because I was trying to cross the pedestrian crossing on foot, instead of in a wheelchair as indicated by the sign. At least I had the presence of mind to tell her off in Chinese, which nearly made her fall over. As if hitting a foreigner wasn’t bad luck enough but then to be told off in your own language? Unbelievable. 

I got into the next available taxi, rubbed the tyre marks off my legs, and resolved to pull myself together and enjoy the fact I wasn’t in hospital. You know I love Shanghai taxi drivers and this guy was no exception, with a happy disposition, severe short-sightedness, and a wide grin full of alarming looking gold fillings. I loved him forever when he said that although my pronunciation was really terrible he could understand every single thing I said. And that learning Chinese was so difficult it was amazing I could speak it at all after only a year. Bless him. At least I think that’s what he said. I resolved right away to study my Chinese cusses a lot more, because they were bound to come in handy. He’d seen the whole scooter incident and he agreed it was her fault even though I wasn’t in a wheelchair.
Love of the city flooding back, I ignored the four near misses we had over the next ten minutes and concentrated on getting to lunch. Lunch was great – not Chinese food unfortunately, but tapas – but that’s the great thing about this place – there are cuisines from every corner of the world on offer. Don’t like tapas? Walk next door and have Sichuan, or French, Uighur or Persian food. Food heaven. 
Walking home later past a typical Shanghai fruit shop I was loving the wonderful colours and variety of everything on display – the lychees, the peaches, the big, ripe mangoes. The fruit was displayed with so much care – all the pyramids of grapes just so, all the watermelons piled in neat rows and the peaches rolled so that the blush side was up. Just as I was admiring the sheer wonderfulness of it all I noticed the shop girl in a corner, sitting on a low stool and plucking out her long underarm hairs one by one, then absentmindedly dropping them on the lychees. Ah, Shanghai. I love you, warts and all. 

Shanghai Taxi Drivers, I Love You!

I never really liked Shanghai taxi drivers that much. They spit out the window, they have grubby uniforms and grubbier cabs, and occasionally they get out of the cab to take a slash against the front wheel. While you’re sitting in the front passenger seat. 

Compared with Beijing taxi drivers however, I now know that I simply didn’t realise how much I love my Shanghai taxi drivers. It’s as if I was blind to their charms because they were always right under my nose. Or up my nose. Whatever. I don’t want to start any kind of turf war here, but these are the facts. As I see them.

1. Shanghai taxi drivers use the lines painted on the road as a form of decoration. They are not, at any time, to be driven between. You will find, as I do, that this makes for a much more interesting taxi ride. In Beijing, everything is very orderly and frankly quite boring. 

2. Despite their artistry with the roadways, Shanghai taxi drivers never get creative with the meter. In Beijing, they will try and rip you off hell west and crooked. Look out. 

3. In Shanghai, if you need a taxi, just step out from the curb and raise your arm to waist height. Now flap your hand vigorously. A taxi will stop. In Beijing, the only way to get a taxi is to hijack one at traffic lights, climb in and refuse to get out. 

4. Beijing taxi drivers hardly ever use their horn. What’s that all about? When I’m travelling in a taxi I like every other vehicle, pedestrian and small animal to know that I’m there. 

Sort of:   ‘BEEEP…here I come….BEEEEEP…coming through!…BEEEEEEEP….passing you now….. BEEEEEEEEEP BEEEEP BEEEEP….driving straight through this red light….BEEEEP BEEP…..coming to a stop!’ 


I like the full audio experience that Beijing taxi drivers cannot offer.

5. Shanghai taxi drivers UNDERSTAND me. Not in a deep personal sense, but in a ‘shemme lu?’ (tr. ‘where are you off to fair lady?’) kind of way. What language do they speak in Beijing taxis??? It sounds like grunting whilst eating a plum, and it’s definitely not mandarin.


(Can you tell I’m glad to be back in Shanghai?)