Traffic jams and language barriers – a taxi ride experience in Beijing

Taking a taxi in foreign countries is childishly simple. Except in those whose languages one does not know at all. In China, for example. Or in Pakistan. Or in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But let’s focus on China.

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Even to get a taxi there is a bit of a challenge: Go to a busy road and stretch out your flat right hand. Don’t worry, you are not revealing yourself as a supporter of a certain German dictator. Now move your hand up and down and than a bit into your own direction, as if you lovingly call for someone. At this point, you will feel pretty stupid. But you’ll see, that eventually a taxi will stop. And if you are lucky, it is even a taxi.

When this happens, the first thing to do is to get into the car – preferably in the back and as far as possible away from the upcoming spitting and tirades of the driver.

Then, tell him any destination to which you would like to go to. You don’t speak Chinese? Don’t worry! There are various options. Ask someone who speaks Chinese how to pronounce the address. Then repeat it loudly again and again and again on your way down to the street. Sounds stupid? Second proposal: write a phonetic transcription. Then you will have the right pronunciation always at hand. And if all goes wrong, there is still the safest option: You call someone who speaks a little Mandarin and give your phone to the driver.
Let’s say you want to go out with friends who wait for you in Chaoyang Gong Yuan Nan Lu. This is an equally busy bar street in the City Center of Beijing. Well, somehow everything here is city center.


Then it will get exciting. The driver will turn around while you are trying to pronounce the name of you destination and you will see his face for the first time. Later, in other taxis, you will always think you have exactly the same driver.

First of all, he will not smile at you. He will repeat the destination, but much faster and somehow slurred. This will confuse you, but before you can think twice, you’ve probably already started nodding. Eventually, it will all be fine, right? He is the one that is from „the Jing“, isn’t he?

And then your guys will just hit the road. That will be the moment when you will start reasoning with yourself. The moment you might call your friends and tell them that you’re on your way, and yes, you going to be there sooner or later.


You will drive and drive and drive. A quarter of an hour, half an hour, maybe a whole hour. And after endless traffic jams, stop-and-go, U-turns and certainly the one or the other illegal driving stunt the car will stop all of a sudden at the side oft he road.

The driver will turn off the taximeter, turn around and shout at you in a somewhat harsh way in Mandarin. No, that is not aggressive at all, people from Beijing used to talk like this all the time. Totally surprised after this eternal drive, you will simply pay the amount, say your best Xiè Xiè (Thank you) and slam the door behind you.

This will be the moment in which you will have no idea where you are. The moment you will stand somewhere on a sidewalk, in front of shops that you have never seen before, in front of the owners who stare at you and in front of flashing neon signs. The moment you will call your friends and just hope that you didn’t end up somewhere in the suburbs.

However… this won’t happen. Because in this very moment you’ll suddenly realize that at this address, right here, you are just right. You will notice that the driver must have understood you pretty well and that your Chinese cannot be as bad as you might always thought.
And from this second on you will know that taking a taxi is not necessarily as easy as you might always thought.

Have you been to Beijing or somewhere else in China? What anekdotiques and tips do have from there? Leave a comment!

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This post is also available in Deutsch.

  1. Oli says:

    Da hattest du aber Glück. Viele Taxifahrer wiederholen das Ziel nämlich nicht und fahren einfach los – mitunter in die falsche Richtung. Das gute an Peking ist aber, dass man sich wirklich super leicht orientieren kann. Praktisch alle Strasse laufen den Himmelsrichtungen entlang.

    • Clemens says:

      Stimmt, das ist dann wieder ein ganz anderes Problem, wenn der Fahrer einfach losfährt. Trotzdem kann man sich wirklich ganz gut an den Ringroads orientieren, wenn man sich ein bisschen auskennt.


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