This is something I wrote up in the summer of 2006, but have done nothing with since.

“Now you know what China is like,” the taxi driver said after he dropped me off this evening.

I dropped a friend off at her home, and as I didn’t fancy my chances at getting the last bus home (busses on the route tend to stop at around 9:30 or 10pm) I took a taxi. I live on top of a hill on the outskirts of the city, ten minutes walk to the nearest bus stop at my quickest pace, more like 20 when tired and returning home. Behind this hill is an army firing range, a cremitorium and a chicken farm.

The taxi was decked-out with flashing blue lights outside and a picture of Deng Xiao Ping inside. I asked the taxi driver to stop off at a corner shop, my favourite corner shop, on the way home. This shop sells my favourite brand of cigarettes, Zhong Nan Hai 8s (the foreigners’ favourite and pure ecstasy for a reasonable price of RMB6.2, all with less than 1mg of tar and carbon monoxide, any more being common in Chinese cigarettes but illegal in Europe). This particular shop, and the reason it is my favourite corner shop in the whole of Dalian, sells a wide variety of beer, far more than most corner shops. I opted for a bottle of ‘Da Bang’. Da Bang was the only type chilled. “Where are our bottles?” they asked, “you never return our bottles, what use do you have for 150 empty bottles?” I told them I would return the bottles soon, something that I’ve been telling them for the past 6 months.

“Is it OK to smoke, would you like one?” I asked the taxi driver. He permitted me to smoke, refused my offer of a cigarette, but gave me a light.

As I said, I live at the top of a hill. At the bottom of the hill is a crossroads where, from the preceding road, we turned right. There was a small small bus transporting local IT workers to their nightshifts in the middle-right lane of the four lane road, slightly in front; the left lane seemed empty.

I heard a crash. As taxi driver slowed our carriage, we saw a small junction on the left. Smoke was emitting from one of those small three-wheeled pick-up trucks often seen at manual labour sites/markets/with individuals scowling Dalian for used plastic bottles, cardboard, and other items of some worth. The smoke formed an impressive 4 metre high cloud illuminated on the dark road by the glow of orange street lights from above. A small group, perhaps passengers on the three-wheeled truck, perhaps standers-by, had gathered around the accident site within seconds, otherwise the road and entire area was motionless [This was the holiday season at the university I live in. All of the students had returned home and the feel of the area had regressed to it’s past role: a graveyard on a hill facing the sea]. The small bus, now behind us, had stopped, as had we. I thought “Oh, are we going to take them to hospital?” But no, the taxi driver applied the accelerator and ploughed up the hill. We passed a motorcycle-taxi going down the hill, which I thought was unusual because we’d not had motorcycles at the top of the hill since those 8000 students returned home – our generously sized campus now had a population of just 100.

At that point we were overtaken by a motorcycle taxi, at least I identified it as a motorcycle taxi by the characteristic long woven seat for passengers (a casual observation is that different groups/gangs of motorcycle drivers have different patterns, different groups opting for different colours, certainly I know that different patches are controlled by different groups), cutting in front of the taxi-cab.

He disembarked his motorcycle, approached the driver’s window and said to the taxi driver “What?! Did you see what happened?! I saw you! I saw you hit that vehicle, paused, and quickly ran [sped] away! Come and look!” The taxi driver was perplexed, and got out to talk/argue. “What are you talking about? Look at my taxi! There isn’t a scratch!” “I’m going to call 110 [police]” said the motorbike man. It stuck me that he was very well dressed for a motor-cycle driver, wearing a smart white shirt, black trousers and black leather shoes, but was also able to drive a motorbike very expertly for a casual observer who happened to jump on the nearest vehicle. Motorcycle permits are not issued in Dalian’s city districts. Security guards from the post ‘guarding’ the residential area at the top of the hill, which we had stopped next to, took chairs from their guard post, and set them up in the road. The road offered a clearer view of the argument than that which their guard-box seemed able to offer. “OK, I’ll take him home and then go with you to see the police.” the taxi driver told the motorbike man.

I was struck with the impression my Chinese listening skills were improving.

Our taxi had not stuck anyone or anything. We were on the rightmost of the road while the accident happened on the leftmost of the road (from our perspective). I overheard the motorbike driver say something about cutting in front of something else, but it was clear to me that the taxi had not hit anything, nor been in close contact with anything. I offered my mobile phone number to the driver in case there was any further problem/enquiry.

An hour later there was a knock on my door from a neighbour. A taxi driver was downstairs asking for me (my residence sometimes has poor mobile phone reception). He asked me to go to the bottom of the hill, to the accident site, to speak with various people. It was now about 23:10 and I was enjoying a Zhong Nan Hai and a Da Bang.

We arrived at the ‘scene’ to see a police car and a group of angry people. A single policeman was trying to ascertain what had happened. The angry people consisted of the well-dressed motorbike man, someone sitting/lying on the ground to the side of the three-wheeled cart (with no one, amateur or professional, attending to them, and a group of 5-6 people I would amateurishly identify, given their workman’s clothes, darkly tanned skin and the lack of a Dalian ‘oyster’ accent, as migrant workers.

I spoke: “the taxi didn’t hit anything, we were on the far right of the road behind a small bus” one of the migrant workers said “no, your taxi swerved onto the left-most side of the road hitting this vehicle” the policeman said “look at the taxi, it doesn’t have a mark.” After group discussion, people talking so quickly I struggled to understand, they story seemed to change that the taxi was leaving the driveway of an office complex on the road, which was somewhat a change on the earlier story. By this time the migrant workers had been surpassed in number by a group of taxi drivers supporting their freelance-colleague (Dalian’s taxis divide into the ‘blue’, ‘white’, yellow’ and ‘red’ companies, the taxi in my earlier journey was a ‘yellow’ cab). The policeman took the particulars of all involved and said it was unlikely the police would have any further involvement.

The taxi driver took me back home, about 800 metres up the hill. “Do you think they really mistook what they saw?” I asked. “Swindlers. If I have any further problems I can call you, right?” he replied, adding “Now you know what China is like.”

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