Ms. Toad’s Wild Shanghai Ride

I believe in an earlier post I mentioned the cab/limo/death mobile I took from the airport to the hotel the night I arrived to Shanghai. It was the first of many harrowing automobile rides I experienced over the course of the four days I survived in the city with roads filled with cars, busses, bikes and mopeds.

The first car I rode in did not have a working seatbelt where I was sitting. Actually, over the course of the four days, only one cab did have a functioning seatbelt. So every time, I just made sure my door was locked, in the event the car rolled, I believed would not get thrown from the vehicle.

The first taxi driver got the car up to speeds of 150kh. I only know that because the way he whipped around other cars on the freeway, I thought they were standing still. I get traffic. I do. I talked about it in this Minute here. I don’t know how long the ride was, I only hoped that I would live long enough to get out of the car in one piece.

I arrived at my hotel, shaken and stirred, and was surprised when the driver yelled at me for not giving him a tip. I had read that tips were already figured in to the bill. Maybe I looked American and he thought I would tip him. Anyway, I didn’t think I’d ever see him again, so I wasn’t worried about fall out from offending him.

The walk from my hotel to the conference center was actually only about 20 minutes. If you happened to be able to read Chinese characters and and knew which way you were going. It was a comparatively short (5-7 minute) cab ride, which would hardly garner a long distance fare or potential tip. Some taxi drivers told the young man at my hotel that they “didn’t know where the conference center was.” I believe they turned down the fare because they DID know where the conference center was, and actually hated driving around there because they knew the roads were a veritable death trap.

When I was ready to head to the conference center that first morning, the concierge at my hotel helped me explain to the willing taxi driver where I needed to go. It was 7:30am, the roads were MUCH calmer. I could actually experience the city, see buildings, people, architecture. I was surprised at how much construction was going on in town. At one point, I thought I heard gunshots, but it was firecrackers in the base of the construction of a new highrise. I suppose it was to ward off evil spirits.

The Chinese have an interesting concept of a roundabout. There are no rules. We have rules here, I know. I did this Minute to point out what the rules are. But it would not have helped. There are no lines, no clear driving lanes. I believe the road “rules” in Shanghai are only suggested concepts that no one follows. I was surprised I did not see many accidents. Only the results of two fender benders in fact. (Upon my return, I learned that our friend Rennie had been INVOLVED in three accidents over the course of a week. I’m glad I didn’t know that!)

The last day of the conference, I got a late start heading out. And for some reason, it is more difficult to get a taxi on Wednesday than any other day. When a driver finally did agree to take me to my destination, he drove slower than every other cabbie had.

And then, without warning (or maybe he did and I just didn’t hear him) he pulled over on a busy road and parked the car by a public toilet.

Parked. The. Car.

And got out.

And left me there as the cars whizzed by.

I was in such a state of shock, I didn’t even whip out my camera for photo evidence. That’s pretty big shock my friend. Adrenaline was rushing. What to do? Get out? Hail another cab? Walk towards…where?

He came back in that long/short minute without a word and drove me to the hotel. I’m still counting my blessings.

Behold a 1 minute video of an instant experience of the roads while I was safely ensconced in the body of a 50 passenger tourist bus. There is no way I would have been brave enough to video the close calls I experienced while I was a passenger in every cab.  I was  too busy sucking in my breath, flinching and/or closing my eyes in anticipation of impact.

Next blog…the Gala!

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