- Asia, China
Saturday evening, and I'm hitching a cab ride back to my school. The first words out of my mouth reveal me as a foreigner. It's the usual struggle trying to get the driver to understand where I want to go. But for once, this isn't about language barriers. The driver and I exchange the usual trivialities:
"What country are you from?"
"Oh, your Chinese is very good."
"Riiight, that's why you didn't understand me when I got in the cab."
"Are you a student?"
"No, I'm teaching English."
"How much money do you make?"
"One thousand five hundred yuan."
"Really? That's not very much."
"I'm a Volunteer."
"How old are you?"
He is a friendly man who laughs easily and often. In the usual manner, he weaves in and out of the thinning evening traffic, abusing his horn like a professional—or a maniac—depending on your take. Unlike many in his profession, he initiates the conversation and keeps it going.
"I'm from right here, of course. Lived here all my life. Can't say whether I like it or not. We don't think about it like that. Not in this business. I was born here. It will be where I die. What's the use of saying I like it or dislike it? There aren't other options. If I say I like it, what do I know? I have never been anywhere else. I cannot say I dislike it, it is my family home."
I sit quietly, feeling a little sorry for him, and not a little guilty for the miracle of an opportunity that allows me to be sitting in his cab at that moment, 10,000 miles away from my family home.
"America is a great place. How much do people make in America?"
"It's hard to say."
"Well, just average, as a teacher, three thousand dollars a month?"
"Maybe; I don't know."
"Well, it's much more than here, for sure."
"Yes, but it costs more to live in America, also. I can eat a good meal here for 5 yuan [about 63 U.S. cents]; the cheapest meal would cost $5 in America." He nods his head appreciatively, as if that's what he wanted to hear.
He takes a shortcut, winding through a back street that I only vaguely recognize, but know is faster than going down the main roads. So when we arrive at my destination I am a bit disoriented and surprised. After realizing that it is indeed where I need to get out, I begin simultaneously fumbling through my pockets for the fare and clumsily falling out of the cab.
"No, no, don't worry about it."
"What?" I look at him uncomprehendingly for a moment. "No! Here!" I exclaim, thrusting my wad of crumpled bills toward him.
"No, keep your money! You are here doing good things for China, thank you." He speaks quickly as he deftly leans across the passenger seat pushing my hand forcefully out of the cab. Next thing I know he has shut the passenger door. I helplessly stand there, looking flabbergasted. Only moments before he disclosed to me that he makes a mere 200 yuan a month (a sum so low I was sure I must have heard wrong), and now he is refusing to take my money. He waves a cheerful goodbye, hits the accelerator, and then he is gone.
Thank you, Mr. Taxi Driver.