Monday, November 26, 2007

No. 038871

Or something like that. I wouldn't want to embarrass the man by having one of my obsessive blog-fans track him down....

That - or something like it - was the registration number of the cab driver who took me up to Liudaokou last Monday. And a fine character he was: no fuss, no bullshit, no feigned inability to understand my fractured Chinese, no patronising correction of my tones. And the man actually knew how to drive. And he nodded appreciatively, approvingly when I told him to go on up to Beishatan Qiao rather than run the gauntlet of the 4th Ringroad, readily accepted the instruction rather than trying to argue for the merits of getting stuck in a traffic jam for 20 minutes.

This, you see, is an uncommonly low taxi driver number. I can't even recall how many digits they have (I think it might in fact be 7, or even 8 - must check later today), but one generally looks only at the first two. The prevalent superstition - amongst locals as well as expats, I think - is that the critical threshold is around '20'. A number lower than '20' is usually good (although you may get the occasional dingbat in the high teens). A number higher than '20' is often a bit dicey (although you may be lucky in the low 20s, since these guys have at least got a few years under their belt now; and a lot of the more recent recruits [I guess we're closing in on '30' now] are actually pretty good too; it was in the low and mid-20s that the Supervision Bureau seemed to go through a really dire spell of accepting any old swarthy peasant for the job). A number less than '15' is these days a real rarity, and implies, I think, that the guy has probably been on the road for 15 or 20 years. A number less than '10' is virtually unheard of.

Numbers less than '05' you write down in a notebook and compare with friends. I think I did once have a '0344... something'; but this guy last week must have been the second or third most ancient cab driver I've ever come across here. A red-letter day indeed.

And particularly welcome, since I've been having a bit of a bad run of late. I've been using taxis way too much, putting myself statistically at risk of "bad taxi moments" - and lord, I think my recent experience has been outside the standard deviation. I mean, I got a guy last weekend who stopped dead at a green light. Is it possible that the Beijing Taxi Supervision Bureau approves drivers who are red-green colourblind? I think perhaps it is!


I think I will formalise this as a regular competition for my Beijing-based friends (prizes yet to be decided, but probably involving alcohol): collect your lowest taxi driver numbers, and we'll see who's got the best one each month. Please, if you spot any really good, old numbers (or simply have an amusing - preferably positive! - taxi driver anecdote to share with us), add them in the comments below.

22 comments:

Froog said...

Ah, no, it is just 6 digits for each registration. I suppose that works out at about 10,000 new drivers per year for the past 30 years, on average.

This morning I got no. 051872. Not bad! Maybe my luck is turning....

Tulsa said...

I like this idea. will start noting the numbers.

Froog said...

I got an 0457** early in December; I think that was my lowest number all month. Because it was a slack time at work, I haven't actually been using cabs very much of late.

Unfortunately this guy was not a good cabbie - he turned the wrong way on to Gongti Beilu and immediately got us stuck in a horrendous traffic jam. The magic of the low numbers doesn't always work.

Froog said...

January was another extremely low taxi-use month for me: I doubt if I took more than 7 or 8 rides all month, and mostly wasn't paying any attention to the driver numbers when I did.

However, I did clock one guy who as an 0574**. I think he must have been my personal winner.

I must do more to try to popularise this 'game' - not attracting any attention yet!

tulsa said...

Taxi 0249**! But age has not given him wisdom.

Froog said...

Tulsa's been sending me a few of her taxi numbers by text message over the past couple of weeks, but I hadn't got round to transcribing any until that last one.

I mean, come on, T, you were sending me numbers in the high teens and low twenties - it doesn't even start to become interesting until they're below 15****. (And notice, I've decided to start omitting the last two digits [which is rarely likely to be necessary to break a 'tie'!] to protect the poor guys' anonymity. We wouldn't want Beijing's poor beleaguered cabbies getting bombarded with the dreaded "Do you know Froog?" question, would we?).

However, that one, if you recorded it correctly, is truly remarkable. 03s are rare as hen's teeth; I've never seen an 02. He must have been around since the Cultural Revolution.

Whatever did the poor guy do to earn your dispraise?

Froog said...

It's been a very quiet month for me. I've probably only taken a taxi half a dozen or so times, and - intimidated by Tulsa's unbeatably low number at the beginning of the month - I haven't really bothered to make a note of any of my driver numbers.

I did get a 0588** on Thursday - that's not too shabby.

Now that work is (touch wood!) starting to pick up again, I should be having more opportunities to find a Tulsa-beating number.

Froog said...

I had a 1416** a couple of days ago, who was really quite a cool dude.

An early front-runner for the March 'prize'.

jeremiah said...

Taxi #02635**

Froog said...

Wow! Did he have a long wispy white beard and an air of mystic contentment?

I don't think I've ever seen one of these '02' guys. Darn it - I guess I just don't take taxis enough.

Froog said...

0822**. But he had a baby-face!

tulsa said...

Driving grandpa's car? Or China-never-look-old syndrome?

Froog said...

Jeremiah, of course, takes the prize for March with his unbeatable - almostly unbelievably antique - 0263.

Congratulations. I guess I'll buy you an apple juice the next time I see you, man.

Froog said...

My superstition about the really bad spell of indiscriminate taxi driver recruitment in the low 20s has been borne out twice in the last few days. I got a 2311** the other day who didn't know where Gulou Dongdajie was. Come on, now - it is one of the major east-west thoroughfares through the city centre, leading to the famous historic landmark of the Drum Tower and giving access to two of the main bar districts.

And then I had got a 2278** up in Wudaokou last week who led in an horrendous traffic bottleneck - although this may have been a crafty ploy to inflate the fare rather than mere incompetence.

I didn't do that much better, though, with a veteran 1084** who had no idea how to find the Beijing Sports University - although he did admit to me that he wasn't familiar with that quarter of the city; and I can sympathise, because that whole area (just outside the 5th Ringroad in the north-west) has only been built in the last 5 years or so.

However, on Sunday I encountered the frontrunner for April's challenge - 0798**. And he was a very cool dude too - pulled off a couple of neat moves to avoid traffic lights and roadwork bottlenecks, and raced for a while against a dakuan in a black Lamborghini (the cabbie won too! Yay!).

Froog said...

Another fairly quiet month for taxi use for me - and I've had a bad run of dipshit drivers in the mid-twenties, swarthy peasants with impenetrable accents and absolutely no road sense, even after 5 years or more in the job.

I did get a 1086 last weekend, which I thought would be my personal best this month; but then, last night, outside the office where I'd been working, I happened upon the venerable 7017 taking a break. He whisked me to the Pool Bar in double quick time, and I was able to catch most of the re-run of the Barca v. Man Utd football match on TV there. It is remarkable the contrast between these veteran drivers and the newer, high number ones: 9 times out of 10, they actually know what they're doing, and it does make life so much pleasanter.

Froog said...

Of course, I bear a bitter grudge against cab driver No. 199847 who stole my fucking phone last week.......

Froog said...

This month got off to a good start for me: yesterday, I got the venerable 0349** - possibly the lowest registration number I've ever encountered, and a truly savvy driver.

It was a lucky break for me, because the traffic was hellish and I had to get across town for a wedding. Not only did my driver know where my hotel was (not something you could count on from many of them with a number above 20****), but he fairly scythed through the traffic, lane-hopping with studied determination and switching freely between the main roads and the auxiliary lanes alongside as convenience dictated. Without him, I would never have made it on time.

Froog said...

I've had a good run lately - lots of fairly competent drivers with registration numbers in the mid-teens.

1514** and 1496** were particularly good. That's about as old and experienced as you can typically find; the really low numbers are becoming rare as hen's teeth.

Froog said...

A few days ago, I was driven by cabbie No. 0215**! That is definitely the most venerable one I've ever come across.

He didn't seem to be particularly savvy, though. I fear he was one of those who have been overwhelmed by the pace of change in the city. A lot of those who started driving back in the 80s will have seen 10 or 15 years of comparatively little change (apart from a steady growth in the amount of road traffic in the middle 90s); but in the last 10 years or so, the city has doubled or trebled in size, and completely transformed itself. Even in the last year or so, the number of huge new building developments completed is quite staggering. It's not really all that surprising if a lot of Beijing cabbies - particularly the older ones - don't recognise their own city that well, and are reluctant to stray too far from a familiar 'home patch'.

Froog said...

I had an 0332** going out to Haidian this morning; and 1336** coming back. Happy day!

MyLaowai said...

Not in Beijing, but Shanghai. All the same...

A bunch of 0's, followed by "69". Incredible. This guy must have been driving back when the horse and cart were introduced. He drove like he had no reason to live, or for anyone to have a reason to survive. But Ye Gods was he fast! He got me where I wanted to go in half the time it takes anyone else. Of course, he did take a few shortcuts through places where roads no longer existed, but hey.

Froog said...

Ah, it's great to find drivers like that, isn't. It can be an exhilarating, if terrifying, experience.

I think you've probably got the prize there for the most venerable cab driver in the whole of China, ML.