I jumped into the back of a cab near the St. Regis Hotel last Friday and asked the driver to go to Workers’ Stadium.
We made it as far as the northwest corner of Ritan Park when the driver pulled over, shook his head, and pointed at the door to indicate I should get out.
I didn’t like the idea of looking for a new cab on an empty street at night in the cold. I repeated the address in the hope that might do the trick. He shook his head again. I asked if he knew the location of Workers’ Stadium. He said he didn’t and indicated the door.
Unable to convince him to go further, I took out my phone to record his taxi license number.
Big mistake – he became agitated, started shouting, and grabbed my arm. I shouted back at him, pulled my arm free, gathered my computer and groceries, and exited the taxi.
I stood about ten meters away and dialed a friend.
Another big mistake – he came after me and, fifty meters later, latched onto my arm. If he wasn’t pulling the sleeve of my coat, he was gripping my computer bag or grabbing at my cell phone.
This tug-of-war lasted about five minutes, as I tried to hold onto all my bags while dragging him down the sidewalk. We passed some locals and he started talking to them. Like me, they were unsure of what he was saying. Finally, as he had a coat sleeve pulled six inches past my wrist, one woman had an “a-ha!” look and said, “He wants to be your friend — your pengyou.”
My Mandarin level precluded me from explaining I don’t link friendship to damaging people’s coats, public harassment, or being dropped off on a dark corner on a cold winter night. In any case, the presence of the woman and a few other people calmed him slightly and I escaped. For all I know, the driver did feel bad or wanted to explain he had other matters to deal with and thus wanted to drop me off, or… whatever. In any case, once he got out of control, I simply wanted to get away.
What’s the point of the story? I am NOT making a generalization about China, its citizens or, even more narrowly, its cab drivers. I take two or three cabs a day, which translates into about a thousand per year, and this is the first time I’ve experienced something like this. While I have issues with cabs in Beijing – particularly in terms of inconsistent service – I don’t feel unsafe in them.
No, my point is that this situation soon saw me alone, in the cold, beside Ritan Park, with no taxis in sight. And I realized… this is the perfect time to go to Stone Boat and start my winter wireless series.
The series is called The Good, The Bad and The Wireless – not the most creative title, I know – and looks at options out there for those seeking to get food, coffee, and online.
First up: Stone Boat
– It’s a sedate getaway in the city center and lies beside an ice-covered pond
– You can feel tourist-y / a sense of history in its Qing Dynasty surroundings
– The atmosphere is cozy, the place kept warm by heaters and double doors
– A pot of Whiskey and tea is 30 kuai
– If you stay late enough, you’re within a five-minute walk of a Maggies hot dog
– The bathrooms are outside, they are cold and, at least on this night, they reeked
– If business is slow, the staff gets bored, so don’t be surprised if they mindlessly bang something on a table or make other annoying noise
- The access is good and, frankly, there is something cool about parking on a bench in this building, gazing out at the pond and trees, and being online.
Next review: Le Petit Gourmand