I’m still a fool, even after nearly 30 years of frequent international travel.
Never take the taxi that lurks near the railway station, or near the tourist site, the one with the smiling driver who speaks English well!
But when you’re tired after a night flight and in a new country, and confused, you’re susceptible to anyone’s charms and to convenience.
This driver was lurking near the exit from the Pudong Maglev railway station and we were in a hurry to get to our Shanghai hotel.
‘Trust me,’ he said, and we did, despite the warning signs.
And there didn’t seem any reason not to. He kept up a delightful patter about the iniquities of other nation’s taxi drivers.
‘Here we all on meter,’ he said.
And indeed we were on the meter, but I noticed with some unease that the meter was whizzing round at an accelerated rate.
It was only a 20-minute drive. As we approached the hotel, the driver showed an odd uncertainty as to its location, and stopped at the kerbside opposite.
Yes, I am fool, but I won’t be taken for one.
‘Drive up to the hotel,’ I said, when he announced that the fare was 380 Yuan (40 GBP), due to the exceptional (but to us invisible) traffic.
He wouldn’t move the taxi, so we moved ourselves, getting out, taking our luggage from the boot, and leaving without paying at all. Somehow we felt that violence wasn’t in his repertoire and we were within shouting distance of the lobby. Violence certainly wouldn’t have been in his interest.
‘If you won’t actually take us to the hotel where we can check if your fare is reasonable, then you won’t get a single Yuan,’ my partner said.
We crossed the road, entered the lobby and told the concierge what was going on. By this time the taxi had sidled up to the entrance, so we went back out to remonstrate in force and pay whatever was reasonable. After all, he deserved at least something for his charming commentary on the evils of others.
He settled for 60 Yuan (7 GBP), very resentfully, as the hotel staff threatened to call the police. Loss of face is apparently the greatest humiliation in China and his loss was total.
‘Fuck you’, he screamed, scowling unattractively.
‘Fuck you too,’ I said, smiling benignly (well, it had been a long journey).
Welcome to Shanghai!