A Crash in a Taxi

I last blogged a week and a half ago just after new year. Since then I’ve been pretty busy at work and depressingly lazy outside work, so I’m only now getting round to updating the blog again.
The first thing to report on, since it’s the story that prompted more comments from family and friends back home than anything else I’ve written in the past two months, is my newfound sobriety. The problem with giving up drinking is not that I miss drinking alcohol but rather that it’s impossible to give up drinking without people assuming that there’s a wider, unspoken, reason to do so. Indeed, since my announcement two people have discreetly told me that if I ever want to talk about it then they’re there for me.

This puts me in somewhat of a catch-22 situation. If I deny having a drinking problem the assumption is that I just haven’t yet admitted to having a drinking problem. So I will refer back to my previous blogpost: I’ve given up drinking in China because I can’t find tasty alcoholic drinks here and being someone who didn’t drink much anyway I don’t see the point in drinking something I don’t like, not quite getting tipsy or merry, and then having a hangover anyway. My friends here have forced a concession out of me: if we discover real Pimms in Xi’an this summer then I’m giving up on not drinking in China.

Anyway, it’s been ten days since my new years resolution and I’m still sticking to it. On Sunday evening Colin, Brittany and I went out with Lindsey and her boyfriend to a bar that’s just re-opened after a redesign. Everyone else was drinking beer or gin and tonic and I had a few cokes. It was actually one of the most enjoyable nights I’ve had since I got here. I didn’t get my usual alcohol induced sleepiness, and so didn’t disappear home to sleep shortly after midnight, and was still in Park Qin chatting away to Brittany and various other ex-pats at 2:30am when it closed. I got to see two different bars in Xi’an; in one night doubling the number of bars I’ve been to here. I even found the taxi rides there and back comical.

On the way to the south gate our taxi had a little bump with another taxi. Nothing serious, and to be honest I’d been expecting it since we got in. Our taxi driver had set off at a sedentary pace and looked carefully before pulling out. I think he even gave way to another car. Such responsible driving immediately put my nerves on edge and it could only be a matter of time before such caution caused a problem. Passing around the bell tower roundabout (think: Arc de Triomph) we were in the wrong lane and our driver, trying to move across, was just a tad slower than all the other vehicles. I saw the gap ahead of us open up and wondered why our driver wasn’t accelerating hard to fill it before another car did. The driver of the taxi behind us, trying to move across lanes the other way, obviously thought the same thing as I did and promptly ploughed into the back of us. I’m not certain what our driver said, but I could make a good guess…

On the way back home I was alone so I had to do the talking to tell the taxi driver where to go. I’ve memorised my address in Chinese and can now say it in what the Chinese staff at work describe as a ‘standard middle class’ Chinese accent. Two months in China and already I’m speaking Chinese in their equivalent of received pronunciation… Anyway, the taxi driver understood me just fine, he just didn’t have a clue where Feng Cheng Wu Lu (Feng Cheng Fifth Road) actually is. Normally getting a taxi from the west side of the south gate is easy. The driver takes us south through the gate, left around the gyratory, and back north through the gate again and then we stay on the same main north-south road all the way home. My taxi driver set off very slowly and hesitantly then turned right to go west along the south side of the wall. I wondered if he hadn’t understood, so I took out the piece of paper in my wallet with my address written on and handed it to him. He read it and still looked confused. Problem.

So I started directing him, first trying to tell him to turn around, which he didn’t do and instead got a bit annoyed. Where I live in Xi’an is about as far from the centre as Edgware is from the centre of London. For a moment I thought about the equivalent situation in London. A Chinese person gets into a black cab somewhere around Waterloo. The only English they speak is “Edgware”. The taxi driver sets off in a direction the Chinese person hasn’t before been taken to get back home, and starts speaking Chinese and pointing to try and give directions to the driver. I bet a London cabbie wouldn’t be best pleased, so I relaxed and trusted that we’d get there eventually. Then by the next gate where we could turn north, the driver got into the left hand lane, which would have taken us even further south.

Through pointing I told the driver to turn right, which he reluctantly did. At the main east-west road I told him to turn right again, then at the bell tower I told him to turn left. We were back heading north on the main north-south road, and I just had to make sure we didn’t turn off again. We passed through the north gate and carried on. Then we got to the ring road, which is Feng Cheng South Road. “Ah ha” I heard him think, “we must be nearly there” and he slowed down as though any moment he’d see where I live. But Wu Lu is actually about four kilometres further north, and every 100 meters or so I had to indicate through pointing that it’s further north and to carry on and don’t turn off yet. We got to fifth road and I told him to go left, but instead he did a u-turn to head back south, so I told him to stop, paid him the ¥22 (about £2.30) fare, and walked the extra 500 meters home. I’m just glad I have a good sense of direction or we’d have driven around all night.

The final item on this update is to say that I’ve got rid of my cough without taking any medicine. I’m not averse to medicines and I’m certainly not about to become a homeopath or some such nonsense. But, the only thing that would have helped my cough is antibiotics and I don’t want to potentially contribute to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance for something as minor as a cough. I also couldn’t be bothered with the faff of finding a Chinese member of staff at work to take me to hospital for a cough that would (and did) clear itself up in a few days.

At the risk of this blog becoming a diary of my medical problems, I’ll go on to say that now I’ve got rid of the cough I’ve picked up another ailment. It’s cold here, and very dry. That coupled with the chlorine in the tap water and my skin, especially on my hands, is drying out and cracking. Fortunately I brought a pot of moisturiser which is helping.

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