Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Moped Diaries

Not quite as revolutionary as its 2004-biopic-counterpart, but yet another harrowing tale of my sketchy unlicensed cabbing adventures:

The other night I was headed out for karaoke with friends, standing on the curb, waiting to catch a cab when a dude on a bike pulls up.

"Hop on!"

Ho ho - I'm not so stupid as to not establish price first:

"How much?"

"40 kuai"

"15 kuai."

"Too cheap!"

"I'll wait for a cab."

There were plenty around, I could've walked to a busier intersection and got one easy, guess I was just in a oh-what-the-hell kind of mood.

The guy goes on and on about how I'm not going to find a cab. I shrug. I'm not in that much of a hurry to get my Bon Jovi on.

He tries to talk me up to 20, I shake my head. We both know eventually a real cab is going to roll up and the price is about the same, so finally he agrees to 15 and I climb aboard.

Then he laughs, "if there are a lot of people there you can give me 20!" "No I won't." I laugh back.

It's a 15-minute ride and we chat most of the way there. We go over the getting-to-know-you basics. He tells me I'm pretty. He tells me half-Chinese children are so beautiful. I want to tell him I dunno, I know some pretty goofy-looking ones, but refrain. Then somehow the conversation turns to moto-cabby giving me birth control advice, which I only partially understand, but I can tell the conversation is getting um, lewd, so I resort to "uh-huh" "uh-huh"

We arrive at my destination. Sort of. He points to the building and it's about two blocks away and he's stopped on the side of the road, not even near an intersection. But I - wanting to credit him with the best - figure he's just anxious to turn back the way he's going, so I say it's fine and I'll walk the rest.

I hand him 15 kuai.

"No, no, these notes are too old."

The notes are old. But so what? However, I'd just had this 15-minute friendly exchange with the guy, so I take my 15 back and pull out a 100. Big mistake, right?

He takes it and begins counting back 20kuai, 40 kuai... I owe you 90? He asks.

No 85, I correct, starting to get the feeling he's trying to confuse me - kind of like in the beginning with the whole "hey! maybe you can give me 20 if there's people there!"

He asks me if I have more change, with my 100 in his hand.

I'm on the sidewalk. The motorcycle is running. No one else is around. If he decides to speed off into the sunset he can, and it looks like he's contemplating doing just that.

My mood did a 180, and I suspect my face did too. Not angry, just disappointed. If I get ripped off I know I deserve it, but I looked him in the eye - is this seriously the kind of person you're going to be?

Then I reach out and yank the 100 back, frowning.

"Either you have to take this 15 or we just have to go somewhere and get new bills, that's all I have." I say.

"Okay, okay."

He takes my 15.

I turn around to walk off, and he starts laughing and extends his hand to shake, which I do. It seems a bit sheepish, apologetic maybe.

Getting ripped off is a fact of life for foreigners in China. Part of it you just accept: I make fantastic money by Chinese standards. But it's tiring never being able to let your guard down. Had I been thinking on my feet, I would've been a lot more stern from the moment I pulled out my money: Stopping in the middle of nowhere, not accepting exact change, it was all bunk.

Good news is I'm probably cured off the unlicensed cabbing for awhile.

I'll post more Malaysia pictures this weekend.

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