"Wish You Happy Every Day": An Expat's Life in China


Riding in Cars with Aiyi
November 1, 2015, 9:01 pm
Filed under: daily life in china, dalian, the expat life | Tags: ,

To hail a taxi with the attitude of “Ha! This is only two dollars!” is pure economic freedom.

It’s not something I can do in America. In Dalian, though, it’s worth budgeting for even if your earnings are meager, for there will be days when 5 o’clock rolls around and thought of getting hit by a bus actually sounds better than that of having to squeeze into one. Just picture that hot summer’s day, roiling in the stench of humanity . . . and a raw garlic-eating portion of humanity at that.

There’s another bonus attached to taxis, for those expats who are learning Chinese. When I had first moved to China, my principle teachers of Chinese were taxi drivers. (Then I started running out of money, and I sought to learn Chinese from fruit vendors.)

And once you get some basic communication skills, you realize that every taxi driver is different. I re-learned that during this past trip. However, because I was with Lipeng, most of them would ask him all sorts of questions about me–“Where is she from? What’s her job? Does she understand any Chinese? Wow, she’s really white/beautiful!”–as though I were his exotic pet. Once, we shared a cab with an older lady in the early evening. She and the ruddy-faced, accelerator-happy driver cackled as they tested my comprehension of Dalianhua. Oh God, I thought, they’re drunk. They’re drunk and we’re gonna crash and the last thing I hear before I die will be coarse ers and ars and ahs of Dalianhua.

(We did not die.)

My favorite taxi driver of all, however, is a woman who goes by Aiyi. Bless your heart if you get the privilege of riding with her. She will get you where you need to go, and she’ll chat you up in her grade school English, which remarkably she still remembers. She’s a woman cabbie and she’s no pushover.

“Go! Fuck!” Beep beep. “Move! Go, baby!” Another punctuative honk, and the car that had been blocking the intersession moved to let us pass. “Thank you!”

Yet you can hear the warmth, the toughness, even an almost nurturing lilt outlining her thick Dalian accent, even if you can’t speak Chinese. When she speaks English, the thing that comes out is her joy.

“I pick up a Colombian girl at the Shengri Di La hotel. You know? I speak English, she so surprised! She work in the hotel be a singer, and she give me a free concert! In my car!”

As an English learner, Aiyi is an interesting case. She’s one of those people who doesn’t let a limited command over a foreign language get in the way of expressing herself. “I love English,” she told me.  Her dream was to be an English teacher–but she now feels too old to pursue formal study. Because her parents didn’t have a lot of money when she was growing up, she was unable to go to college. That opportunity had gone to her brother, who now works in a multinational corporation and frequently travels to other countries on business.

Like many Chinese, things are turning around for the next generation: her daughter, 23, is finishing her last year of college, and to make that happen Aiyi has taken the night shift while her husband drives a daytime taxi.

And as far as English goes, I think Aiyi seeks out opportunities to practice just because she enjoys it. She pays 150 RMB a month to park outside the foreigner clubs (JD’s, Suzie Wong’s, Shengri Di La). So if you’ve gone out and you’re ready to call it a night, look for a female cabbie–it could be Aiyi!

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