Sunday, September 28, 2008

Taxi Hell in Shanghai

When traveling, you know you're signing up for at least one Stupid Tourist Moment. And this has obviously and abundantly happened to me, still new to my new life in China. You know--you get overcharged for a purchase. (Check!) Or served a mystery soup you didn't order. (Yup, check!) Or taken for a ride. Literally, the latter happened to me today. As cheeky as I'm being right now, it took me two hours to stop shaking...

So imagine me, loaded down with my daughter's (heavy) guitar from her lesson and our groceries, son on one side, daughter on the other. As I shuffle down the busy avenue toward the subway station, bashing people in the side with the guitar case, I thought to myself: I don't think I can get on the subway and then walk half an hour home with all this stuff. So: taxi.

Mistake! MISTAKE!!! The driver literally took us for a looooong, circuitous route. Granted, I recognize that my Mandarin is woefully inadequate. However--none of the other taxi drivers I've met in China have had a problem with my directions. At last, we arrive at the entrance of our housing complex. I told the driver what I was going to pay--not what was on the meter, thank you.


Can you believe this?!

I was freaking out. Thankfully, I knew enough Mandarin to threaten the driver that I was going to report him. Important words, memorize them NOW if you are coming to China: Wo yao da dianhua ni de gongsi! (I'm sure the grammar is wrong, but it got the point across.)

So Stupid Taxi Driver backed down, unlocked the doors, stopped at a main thoroughfare, told me he didn't want my money. The thing is: I want to pay what's fair; nothing more, nothing less. I threw money at him, unlocked our doors, snapped at my kids: OUT! NOW! And then I ripped off the receipt so that I had his driver's license number.

Learning #1: In Shanghai, take the turqoise cabs. Do NOT take the navy blue or red ones. Do NOT. Are you listening to me? Do NOT.

Oh, sheesh, I'm still shaking from the experience. (Bu hao!!) So I will now immerse myself in Happy Thoughts of the beginning of the weekend. Our good friends, Stacey and Rich, cooked dinner to celebrate my hubby's birthday. My job was to bring cake. (Note: bring, not bake. They know my cooking.) So I researched the best dessert shop--the House of Flour--and brought a rocking chocolate cake. The best I've tasted!

Yesterday was our Family Adventure Day--our weekly date to explore a new part of the city. I picked up Tess Johnson's book with 6 different walks in Shanghai for my hubby's birthday and encourage you to look at this website for more info about the book.

We took the Yuyuan Lu walk and meandered through lovely, historic neighborhoods (or lilongs) built in the 1920s and 30s.

What surprised us most were all the gorgeous, western style homes tucked down narrow, winding alleys where laundry flew like multi-colored banners from windows. Turn a corner, and there are Tudor and Georgian and Italianate villas...

Can you spot the laundry hanging out in front of this mansion? The original owners would be having a fit, I'm sure. The best surprise for me, personally, was coming to a deadend in a lilong to discover the new overseas studies center for Pepperdine University!

That thrilled me because over at readergirlz, we've been reading Paula Yoo's Good Enough about the pressures of getting into college. Overseas campuses like this are one of the wonderful opportunities that are afforded at college. And I hope all my teen readers take this to heart: if you have a chance to study abroad, go for it. Just look at this piece of paradise Pepperdine has created for the 40 students who are studying in Shanghai. Imagine yourself there. I'm thinking about approaching the center director to offer to do a one-night seminar on creative writing just so I get a chance to go inside...
I loved peering into courtyards within these lilongs--and at the beautiful gardens some of the residents created for themselves. A spot of quiet in the middle of a big, bustling city.

That's necessary because one step outside of these narrow lanes, and it's back to modern Shanghai where there are no rules in traffic. (Or apparently in taxi driving! See! I haven't recovered yet! My kids are I were kidnapped! Ack!)

Back to happy thoughts... Walk finished, we embarked to the boondocks of Shanghai: the Minhang District. Last week, I was panic-shopping for my husband's birthday (note: shopping isn't my favorite activity and he's hard to shop for; and I was writing instead)...when I happened on a beautiful furniture boutique: Ancient and Modern Furniture Design. The designer is from Taiwan, and has residences in Shanghai, Taipei, and New York. He's been featured in the Wall Street Journal and won the Elle Decor design award in 2007.
Anyhow, I was chatting with the storekeeper (See, Stupid Taxi Driver! I can converse somewhat!), getting the scoop on Chinese joinery and padded bras (if you must ask, you are clearly not a girl. We women have the truly fantastic ability to bounce all over the conversational plane and still make sense to each other).

Anyway, she invited me to a private party for the designer's major collectors in Shanghai, complete with traditional music and delicious eats. Best of all, the party has being held in the designer's showroom, created to look like an old Suzhou garden home...

It felt like I had stepped inside my second novel, GIRL OVERBOARD, because Syrah lived in a Chinese garden...just like this...

Syrah's personal art pavilion was somewhat like this one that the designer built for himself...

And there was even the bed that Syrah slept in... Just imagine silk curtains swathing the bed, and you've got Syrah's digs...

And then the truly remarkable part of the weekend was meeting up with our friends, David and Jen Risher, who are traveling around the world this year with their two girls. Around the world, folks! From Dubai to Shanghai, Vietnam to Sydney. This after living in Barcelona for four years. Ever since working with the two at Microsoft and then watching David's meteoric soar at Amazon as a much-beloved senior VP, I always find the Rishers super inspirational, especially their philanthropy. They and their kids spent two weeks in Xi'an, not looking at the terracotta warriors, but teaching English to children at a local elementary school in the country.

And that, folks, is namaste. For every unscrupulous person you encounter, there are fourfold who are all heart.


Anonymous said...

How scary. I'm glad you are all okay.

Happy birthday to your husband!

What beautiful gardens!

alvina said...

Oh my goodness, that's so scary, but it sounds like you handled yourself so well. I'm sorry you had to go through that!

If it makes you feel any better, I've chosen you as a "I heart your blog" over at the Blue Rose Girls:

Thank you for sharing your stories and your new life with us!

Mrs. F-B's Books Blog said...

Oh, man. Someone ELSE just picked you as an I Love Your Blog winner on the same day I did. UNFAIR. Too bad, you're stuck with two awards today. Good karma to make up for your frightening kidnapping. I am thinking that could be a pretty exciting moment in a novel, though...

Hey, I think you're coming to Portland next week for the OASL/WLMA conference, and I know your sister-in-law, she's my dentist, so I was hoping I could take you and her out for dinner on Wed. night if you're available. I called her to check it out, so you can follow up with her and find out I'm not a wacky stalker, just a wacky librarian. Hope to meet you.

You can check out your little award on my blog


PS My biggest regret from college is NOT studying abroad. Readergirlz, take note! She's SO right!

m--e said...

Here is the hotline number to report problems with taxis: 65466671

Yep, red taxis are the worst. Yellow and turquoise are the best, white and blue are usually fine. In a bad situation, get out and collect all of your belongings first (say your money is in the suitcase in the trunk if needed) then grab the receipt (smart girl to get the driver's number), pay what you feel is right and threaten to call the police! You can also write down the driver's number or take a photo of it (the sign posted in the passenger seat) which I think it usually enough to scare them straight right away.

Stay brave! China is much safer crime-wise than the USA.

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