Thursday, May 26, 2011

Metered drama

An 80s 'yellow bug'
We use taxis a lot. They're cheap (around £1-£2 a trip), metered, pretty plentiful and the drivers generally know where they're going - if they can understand our poor Chinese.

It wasn't until the 1980s that you could hail a cab in Beijing and even then they were actually small yellow vans called Mian Di (yellow bugs) which could fit up to eight passengers. By the end of the 90s there were conventional joint-venture Citroen ZXs, and by 2000 it was mostly red Jettas. The last decade has seen Hyundai Elentras, Sonatas, Jie Xuns and even some London cabs.

Anyway, the thing that really intrigues me about a taxi ride, as one sits immobile in traffic, is the soundtrack. Most drivers listen to plays on the radio. They're quite an experience, even if you don't understand a word. Deep voices, careful annunciation, often wildly exagerrated as in a Kabuki drama. Serious, sonorous soaps on wheels.

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