Saturday, May 14, 2011

Know where you are, and Know where you're going

Gloucester Road in HK
During one of my previous trips to China, an "interesting" story unfolded on a night out with my colleagues. I was visiting the city Shenzhen for a couple of days to manage a project that we were doing in our manufacturing facility there.

Shenzhen is a huge city located in the southern part of China, only an hour away from Hong Kong. In the late seventies of the previous century, Shenzhen was only a small village. In 2008 however, the official population was registered at a staggering number of 14 million. (And according to some, the unofficial number is significantly higher)

To celebrate the successful closure of our project, me and my colleagues decided to go out for dinner and drinks after work. We took a taxi to Shekou, which is a part of Shenzhen that is about an hour away from our facility in Futian. (Depending on traffic)

After spending half of the night in a restaurant, and the other half in a bar, we decided that it was time to end the night and go home. My hotel was located near our facility in Futian and because of the long distance between and Shekou and Futian, we decided that one of my colleagues would join me in the Taxi to explain the driver where to go.

Most of the Chinese taxi drivers do not speak any English, and even if you tell them the name of your hotel, they probably will not understand as most hotel names have both a Chinese name as an English name. The Sheraton for example translates (phonetically) to ShiLaiDong. (I don't know the real Chinese translation unfortunately)

However, it was a late night and we had a couple of drinks, and instead of joining me in the Taxi, my colleague told the Taxi driver which hotel I was staying (in Chinese), shut the door, waved me goodbye, and off I went....

"Well..", I thought ".. at least he knows where he should take me."

So I wasn't worrying too much, and enjoying my nightly ride through the city. After a while though, it appeared to me that I started to see the same buildings appear, and then another time, and another time. Apparently the taxi driver didn't know where to go and was driving through the city in circles hoping for me to tell him where to go.

I didn't have any street name or address with me, and also my Blackberry (which has google maps) didn't work in China, so that wasn't of much use either. Luckily I have been to Shenzhen before, and my visual memory never fails on me, so I (kind of) had a hunch where we should be going.

So with giving some suggestions with my hands and combined with English (which he didn't understand anyway) I pointed him where to go. "Yes yes, left here...right here". We didn't make it directly to the hotel, and we halfway got stuck into a very dark and scary neighbourhood where even the taxi driver didn't want to stop his car, but in the end I saw the 28 story Sheraton hotel rising up on the horizon and I pointed towards it, after which the Taxi driver and I smiled to each other.

"Finally we made it!"

When we reached the hotel, it appeared to me that I didn't have enough money to pay the taxi driver. I had some RMB (Chinese Yuan) money with me, but because of the long "sight-seeing" tour around the city, I was short of about 10 RMB from the total taxi fare. While looking through my wallet I found a 10 euro bill, and just gave it to him instead of the 10 RMB (which is about 1 euro).

He looked at the bill, and after a moment started to smile at me. He probably understood that he just earned his daily income by just one taxi ride. Anyway we had an interesting experience together and I didn't mind paying him this extra bit. All together he gave me a good sightseeing tour around the city!

So to make a long story short: Always know where you are, and where you are going to in China.


  1. Hey Roald,
    I just got a chance to read your blog today and seems like you are handling stuff fairly well Paying 10 Euros is nothing when you feel safe again in your surroundings...Keep sharing your experiences this via. I also learned about the good news ( a couple of weeks ago from Wayne) but didnt want to make them public just yet. Congrats!!! Joe V .

  2. In HK the situation with the taxi drivers is not that bad, but still, their English could be improved... What we usually did with others, who did not speak Chinese or Cantonese is: we asked the receptionist to right down the Chinese version of the name of the place where we wanted to take a taxi to as well as the Chinese address of the place where we were staying. It might also help catching the right bus;))