We are two of the few people who move into an unfurnished apartment in China. The housing system works such that every building is a condoplex, and slumlords buy up apartments and rent them, furnished, to the plebes, for massive profit. This system has it’s benefits–no one really loses money when the system demands every 10 year old building be torn down, but it has drawbacks as well: our landlord is a real ‘see you next Tuesday.’
I attempted to venture to B&Q, China’s answer to Home Depot, down to the orange aprons and questionable advice from scruffy looking guys who really should know what they’re talking about. I set out with a printed address, hoping to score some simple things: extension cords, light bulbs, vacuum bags, etc, but lo, was I to be punished. Rule #1, anything that should be easy, isn’t.
I got a cab at Girlie’s office, where there is a convenient, if constantly busy, taxi stand. Girlie likes using taxi stands, because she’s still struggling with the ‘get out of my fucking way I’m going first‘ mentality that rules regular taxi procurement (and really everything else). It’s also a place for occasional entertainment, if the taxi stand orderly catches someone trying to cut in line or pirate a cab out of order. The derision echoes in the covered area to ear-splitting levels. Orderly and fair, this stand is; pre-screened for sanity and basic driving skills, it is not. I hop in to the taxi at the front of the queue and show him the address.
The driver reads the address, smiles and turns on his meter.
‘Ok, Ok.’ says a slight and dark brown man of about 30, with two gold teeth and one missing. For a moment, I think he might be Philipino, which is totally illegal: Shanghai cabbies apparently must prove the’re native Shanghainese to get their permit, although, as with everything, there are always ways around it.
He takes off down Caoxi Bei Lu, a major street that segues into an on-ramp to a highway, and not really in the direction I wanted to go. Already, his driving is erratic enough that I’m looking for things to grasp. He momentarily decides to get on the highway, then crosses two lanes to escape that fate and hit a traffic light underneath the highway. He asks to see the directions again. I show him, and much to my continued dismay, I haven’t absorbed Mandarin through osmosis or the food, so I can’t explain any confusion he might have, which turns out to be every character.
‘Ok, ok, ok.’ he says and tears through a barely green light, narrowly avoiding four or five scooters and a tricycle hauling about a ton of concrete gravel. He careens around the street more erratically than any other Cabbie I’ve had–and that includes the guy who was asleep– and then turns across two lanes of traffic and 100 oncoming bicycles into a parking lot area between two large buildings. He slams on his brakes and then starts examining the print-out again, asking me questions about every character.
I hadn’t learned any Chinese since the last time he yelled at me, so I start to think that he couldn’t read the laser printed, taken from the B&Q absolutley positively correct and complete address (later confirmed, as we used the same printout to get to B&Q successfully). Maybe he didn’t have his glasses. Who knows. Sigh. I decide that either I’m going to end up paying this guy hundreds of RMB to drive me around the city aimlessly, or I’m going to get out right then. I open the door and the cabbie is really surprised.
‘Ok, Ok, Ok, Ok!’ he shouts, beckoning me back into the cab. Not going to happen. I pay him the fare to this point–about U$3–and wander in a mile-wide lazy circle until I figure out where I am, and which way is up. B&Q would have to wait for another day.