Taxis are everywhere in China. They’re inexpensive and easy to catch. However, as a foreigner, directing them to where you want to go can sometimes be challenging. In Doing the China Tango I mentioned that I frequently traveled within a city by taxi, but I never went into the problems a foreigner can encounter by using this ubiquitous form of transportation. Let me do that for you now.
The first problem you’re likely to encounter is, of course, language. Outside of Hong Kong, taxi drivers know very little English. In fact, the further north you go in China the less English will be understood by the Chinese people, especially taxi drivers. For example, if you were in Hong Kong you can almost always get to your destination by giving the taxi driver instructions in English. Beijing, in the northern part of China, is different. If you were at the Beijing airport and wanted to go to the Sheraton hotel, for example, you may instead to be taken to the Hilton as, surprisingly, both words in Chinese sound very similar. If you asked to be taken to the St. Regis you’re likely not to go anywhere as, I’m told by my translator, that St. Regis translated into Chinese comes out as International Club. If you’re already at your Chinese hotel you can get a small card from the concierge which will have the name and address of your hotel in Chinese and you can then hand this to the taxi driver. The same for major shopping and tourist destinations.
I’ve handled getting from the Beijing airport, or from one destination to another, for example, in one of two ways. The first method I use is to have the phone number of the hotel, or business person I’m meeting with, loaded into my cell phone. When I get into the taxi I dial up the hotel operator or party I’m meeting with and simply hand the phone to the taxi driver. It works every time. The second method I use is to e-mail the hotel or other party ahead of time and ask them to put their address and driving instructions in Chinese and send it to me in an e-mail. This also works every time.
Getting around in China by taxi sounds easy in my books but if you can’t communicate the address in Chinese you may have a difficult time getting to your destination, depending on the city you’re in.
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