Friday, April 10, 2009

taxi driver welcome

I'm in Tianjin at the moment, enjoying the long weekend with my sister and her family. I will post photos of the kids soon. But first, an account of my welcome back to Tianjin.

...

I landed in the TJ airport close to 1 am, disoriented and groggy after having slept almost the entire 3-hour flight from Shenzhen. I had told Amy that I felt comfortable finding a taxi and getting to their place on my own -- definitely didn't want anyone out that late to meet me -- and so, stumbled over to the airport taxi stand, ignoring the touts I passed on the way. I got in a reputable-looking taxi and did my best not to butcher Amy's address (it'd been 4 years since I'd visited (!!), but I hadn't forgotten how to say Fu Kang Hua Yuanr). I was still very tired, and would have happily napped there in the taxi, or stared mindlessly at the passing scenery... but very soon realized that would not be happening. Like most Chinese taxi drivers I've met, this gentleman was very friendly.

He seemed to consider me for a moment in the rear-view mirror, and soon the usual questions were flowing.

Where was I from? What did I do? Why was I visiting Tianjin?

A short pause.

How old was I this year? Any children?

I was a little confused by this question, because I had just finished telling him that I was here visiting my jie jie and her family. Was he asking about her, or me?

Oh, of course, me.

I said politely that I didn't have any children, and added that I wasn't married yet. This seemed to bother him.

Twenty-eight and still not married? Why not?

Let me just pause here and say that this is possibly my least favorite question to be asked. It's such a loaded question, and I'm never quite sure how to answer it. I get asked this question from time to time at school, by elementary girls, and am often tempted to say very dramatically, "Really? Do you really want to know?" And then go into an hour-long lecture about the many facets of singlehood and the possible reasons why I am still in its ranks, and how, when it comes down to it, I would much rather choose singleness over being married to someone I was less than crazy about.

But, since my Chinese is limited, I opted to tell the driver that I just hadn't met the right guy yet.

Once again he was incredulous. I guess it makes sense, though. I hear that a lot of women in China are spoiled for choice, what with the imbalanced male to female ratio. Unfortunately, I have no such ratio working in my favor. To show me how shocked he was by my situation, he repeated to himself a few times while shaking his head, "28 years old and still not married, no child. 28 years old..."

Maybe he sensed my annoyance, because soon he was trying to lift my spirits. Did I at least have a boyfriend?

No.

Even longer awkward silence.

At this point, I think he must have begun analyzing why someone as old as me would still be unmarried. He said something to me that I couldn't fully understand. "You Westerners don't care much about ___."

I told him that I didn't understand and asked him to explain.

"I think you foreign girls don't care much about fixing your hair, wearing nice clothes, putting on make-up. Is that right?"

...

Ouch.

I took a deep breath and told myself that I wasn't going to take this personally, even though I was probably the basis for this impression of his. Another deep breath, and I told him that no, a lot of Western girls cared a lot about their appearance. "Right now I don't care about my appearance very much, because I'm very tired, and I've been on a plane for three hours."

It must have been obvious that in spite of myself, I'd taken his comment personally. His next words were almost apologetic. "Yes, I'm sure when you go to work, I'm sure you look very pretty... very pretty."

...

So thank you Mr. Taxi Driver. I will work hard on making myself more presentable, and if you know of any eligible bachelors, be sure to send them my way.

5 comments:

Chris Baker said...

This was a great post Michelle - worth the wait.

It reminded me of my taxi experiences in Qingdao (I once drove with one of those touts before I learned to power through to the taxi stand).

Here were the three same, predictable questions I always - always! got asked:

1. Isn't Qingdao beautiful? Yes, yes, yes, so beautiful.
2. Isn't Qingdao beer great? Yes, yes, yes (although I never had it - thanks to ELIC). I would rather lie about this than try to explain it in Mandarin
3. Aren't Qingdao women really beautiful? I wouldn't know - I have a girlfriend in Hong Kong.

Then they would ask me things I didn't understand until I "ting bu dong"ed them into silence.

Ahhh, China.

Alps said...

LOL! Fun to read, Michelle. I have my regular conversations with taxi drivers and other curious people down pat as well. In fact, I answer so many of the same questions that I've forgotten all the other Chinese vocabulary I've learned over the years.

I know this is kind of dorky to be writing a comment on your blog when you're in the next room. Yay for the internet! :)

Jonah Zane Herzog said...

This is hilarious! I love reading your blog...I miss HK so much!

The Paines said...

Oh Michelle I was laughing out loud! You are such a great writer!

The Tilted Tulip said...

Oh how I miss those awkward conversations. My favorite by far is still the time I was looking at (teeny tiny jeans) in a HK store and when I was explaining that American women have bigger hips (while motioning towards my hips and thighs), the saleswoman looked at me with complete understanding and said, "Oh, you have baby!!". Ugh. Nope. I just look like this.

Keep the posts coming, Michelle! I love reading your blog.