Ch-ch-change: How to make Beijing taxi drivers happy

So happy (photo:


Beijing has its fair share of undesirable taxi drivers: the surly (who avoid eye contact, emit disparaging sighs and respond with moody grunts instead of words), the stinky (did someone leave a garlic, stale cigarette and dirty diaper sandwich in the car?) and the stubborn (who refuse to turn down the radio to properly hear the directions and, when those directions are finally understood, decide to argue about the suggested route you have successfully taken a thousand times).

Yes, those taxi drivers exist. But the vast majority of Beijing taxi drivers are decent guys and gals who are polite, who do their best to get you to your destination, and who work long and hard hours. Given this, and because I am (in theory) a people person, I try to make them happy if I can. And one way of doing that is to provide the right of payment.

Consider the following situation: You take a short late-night ride home and the bill comes to rmb11. Here are standard options for paying that fare and how they will likely influence the cab driver. (I assume five things: you are using no counterfeit bills; no bills so beat up the driver doesn’t want them; no small change such as mao or fen, and no atypical payments, such as using eleven rmb1 notes, nor are you leaving a tip.)



A worst-case scenario unless the taxi driver wants to get rid of his small change. Even if he is happy to get rid of those bills, you might get a gruff grunt because he assumes you were being inconsiderate by handing over such an amount, you selfish jerk. The only other time this amount would make him happy is if he can slip you that fake rmb50 note someone else slipped him.


rmb101 (rmb100 + rmb1)

This is slightly better than giving rmb100, since you have at least shown consideration and allowed him to round the change to the nearest rmb10. Make a show of trying to find smaller notes — check at least three pockets — before handing over this amount and you might escape with little or no sighing / grumbling.



rmb50 and rmb51  (rmb50 + rmb1)

These differ from rmb100 and rmb101 cases only in that the driver will have to surrender less change. He still might get slightly annoyed since the fare is but one-fifth of these amounts and/or because he will have to spend an extra few seconds to check if you are slipping him a fake rmb50 note. (I have noticed taxi drivers are more careful about checking rmb50 than rmb100 notes.)



rmb20 and rmb21 (rmb20 + rmb1)

These amounts are perfectly acceptable since your fare is about half. By providing rmb21, the driver can hand back a single rmb10 note and this gives you a solid change of getting a slight nod / grunt of approval. The rmb20 is a little less considerate but there is really no reason for anyone to get upset.


rmb11 (rmb10 + rmb1)

The exact amount: You hand over the cash, he doesn’t need to count change, and everyone parts way in good spirits. You might even get a nod of approval and a smile. But there is one amount that is even better…



rmb11 (rmb5 + rmb5 + rmb1)

Why? Most taxi drivers have their notes ordered by value in billfold, pouch, paper-clipped bundle or dubious looking handkerchief. If you provide a rmb10 note and a rmb1 note, the driver must first find the rmb10 section and insert one note and then flip to the rmb1 section and insert the other note. This involves two insertions and is wasted time defined.

With two rmb5 and a rmb1 notes, the driver simply finds where the rmb5 section ends and the rmb1 section begins and inserts all three bills at once, a one-stop service, except he’s performing it on himself – with your assistance. Expect a nod, a smile and perhaps even a hug, you big harmonious society-promoting lug.

Snacking in Sanlitun Soho: Holland Fish, Rice & Beef, Moment Cafe, Ssam

Sanlitun Soho is in my neighborhood but I have spent little time since it opened and have thus tried to make amends in the past few weeks. Some spots tried:

Dutch fried rice: Fish on a plate shaped like a fish

Holland Fish (1F): I was drawn like a foot to a wooden shoe by a flier that mentioned “Dutch” fried rice (rmb36). Apparently, the nod to northern Europe is due to the side of cod in a dish that otherwise struck me as Indonesian — then again, the Dutch did colonize that part of the planet. When I visited, Holland Fish had a side deal that included two fish sticks, a small salad (unfortunately overloaded with dressing) and a soft drink (rmb5; regular rmb10). Solid filler…

Hot stuff at Sohu

Rice and Beef (B1): This place offers more than a dozen meat, veggie and rice options served on a hot skillet and seems ideal for those seeking a quick lunch. How quick? By the time I had finished paying for my order and picked a seat, a waitress was behind me with a sizzling plate loaded with kimchi, beef, an egg (rmb2 extra), cheese (rmb3 extra), and rice topped with vegetables. She stir-cooked the meat and egg and then I had at it. Combos start from rmb23.

One spicy sandwich

Moment Cafe (B1): The ‘Indiavolato’ sandwich is among the tastier items I have tasted in the past month. Chicken breast, lettuce, green pepper and jalapeno spread on ciabatta, with a sprikling of sliced chili peppers on the plate — I added them to my sandwich to up that spice level. During lunch, you get a sandwich (five choices) with a soup (I have had the aspargus and the pumpkin and liked both) or salad and an espresso or soda for rmb62.

Soup, sandwich and nuggets at Ssam (pic: DZ Rider)

Ssam (B1): Not everyone’s cup of barley tea but I am a fan. The lunch special offers excellent value — try the chicken sandwich in tofu “bread” (rmb38), the chicken nuggets, rolled in crushed seeds and nuts, with side salad (rmb48) or the bude chigae a.k.a. “soldier stew” (rmb38). The lunch specials are also available on the weekends.

I was lucky enough to sample items on the new Ssam menu lately and enjoyed this place’s take on dukpukki (the rice cake came crispy), the sword fish in a hot tangy sauce, and the  soy bean creme brulee. The wasabi in the raw fish dish nearly vaporized my head so you might want to take that one slow. If you like the Korean pancakes known as jeon, the new menu includes potato cheese and chili squid versions.

Watch that wasabi!

I have also been to Tonton and to Sydney Cafe but want to return once more before writing about them. And I’ll have more on some of the cafes Flour, Luvoello and TF Coffee, and on the bar Titanium.

New Gung Ho Pizza space + Gung Ho-Vedett draw…

This is an exclusive, a “you heard it hear first”, a Beijing food and beverage breaking news story, a… I’m just kidding. I’m not a big fan of such wording. Anyway…

Just a heads up for pizza fans in Lido: Word is the new restaurant will go in the Peter’s Tex-Mex space in Lido. That makes it close to those hundreds of wines at Jenny Lou’s,  not to mention to Cafe del Mar

Re the Gung Ho pizza-Vedett beer giveaway, I’m trying to get all the parties concerned together to do the draw. Hopefully, that will happen early this evening…

Sips & bites: The Royal Café, The Loyal Geoduck, new Ganges

The laptop problems return! Just a short post today. Hopefully all is back to normal by tomorrow…

Look for Danish operation The Royal Café to soon open in the former Butcher’s Steakhouse space. The guys behind this new two-floor venture have been on a hiring and — if the construction is any indication — spending spree.

A block and a half west, W Wine and Dine will reopen as a yet-to-be-named seafood restaurant in the next month or so, says Chris Herbert, who has a trading company that brings in oysters, mussels and the like from North America. (Given this, I am going with The Loyal Geoduck until an official name is announced.) Expect a menu that includes about a dozen appetizers and dozen mains,  including a few beef and chicken dishes, and that changes with the seasons. Given the seafood focus, Herbert says he will have a large white wine list.

Finally, expect a flurry of curry action above Paddy O’Shea’s, says owner Karl Long. (He might not have used that exact phrase; he might have said a slew of dum aloo action; my memory is hazy.) First, Kamat’s closed about a week ago after a decent run atop the Irish pub. Now, Ganges, which boasts at least four operations around the city, will take a shot at making Indian fare work there.

Beer Fest: Miss Kriek by St Louis contest held in Beijing

Miss Kriek by St Louis candidates at Beijinger Beer Fest


The candidates for the Miss Kriek by St Louis crown faced a busy schedule last week with an opening round at Beer Mania on Thursday, a trip to Haidian for the Beijinger Beer Fest on Saturday, and a final round at TF in Sanlitun Soho on Sunday. The program for the 28 candidates including training, photo shoots and a talent competition, says Fredrik Esbensen of Vandergeeten,  the beer importer and distributor that organized the event.

When the beer foam cleared in the final round, the winner turned out to be Momo Meng of Chongqing, a student at BCLU who took the title, says Ebsnesn, “by expressing her passion for beer and her talent for street dancing.” Meng will represent St Louis beer throughout China and travel to Belgium to perform in Brussels Grand Place. Wei Jiang from Jiangsi Normal University and  Zhang Lu Yuan from Beijing Jiaotong University took second and third place respectively.

(Photos courtesy of Vandergeeten)