Wo Shi Laowai – Wo Pa Shui

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A Matter of Face.

Posted by MyLaowai on Sunday, September 16, 2007

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A Matter Of Face…
Or, All Face And No Shame

The Story So Far: Saturday afternoon, around 1630. I had just finished up with a client across town, and was in a taxi heading back home. There was a lot of traffic on the road, more than usual for that time on a Saturday, but not as much as a normal gridlock rush hour. The hairless chimpanzee driving the taxi was no better and no worse than any other taxi driver in the city, there were no confusing directions (like ‘left’ or ‘right’) for him to deal with, and I thought of the martini that was looming large in my immediate future. How wrong I was.

Act I, The Main Event: Monkeyboy pulled the usual stunt, getting into a turning lane in order to get ahead of other cars waiting at a set of traffic lights, and then attempting to force his way back into the correct lane at the head of the line. Unfortunately for him, the black Santana he tried to get in front of wasn’t having any of it, and pulled out of lane slightly to block the taxi driver (whom I will henceforth be referring to as Driver X, even though his real name is Fa Kin Kok). The rather predictable result of this, was that Driver X was out of lane when the lights went green, and fell back some ten cars or so. He also Lost His Face. He therefore set about breaking all kinds of Laws (and I don’t only refer to the Laws of the Road, I include the Laws of Physics, too) in order to get in front of Mr Black Santana, so that he could regain his Face by forcing him to slow down.

Act II, The Fun Starts In Earnest: Driver X, in the best traditions of Chinese Driving, accelerated wildly towards Mr Black Santana, aiming for the left side of his car. The only problem, was that there was another car already there, and that car had nowhere else to go. This problem was obvious to me, of course, but to Driver X it was not a factor in his own personal universe. That is, it wasn’t a factor until about 1 second after it was too late. Driver X hit the skids. The car he was heading for hit the skids. Cars all around us hit the skids. It was like a scene out of CHiPs, and there was so much blue tire smoke in the air that it actually blotted out the view for a moment*. The only car that didn’t hit the skids was Mr Black Santana, who saw the whole thing in his rear view mirror, and who proceeded to come to a gentle stop not a hundred metres later. Mr Black Santana got out of his car, looked back at Driver X, and gave him the Smile. Now, for those of you who are blessed with never having been here, the Smile has about the same effect on interpersonal relations as a declaration of Defcon One has on international relations. It says in no uncertain terms that the Smiler has completely and utterly wiped the Smilee’s ‘face’ away, and that the Smiler fully intends to revel in the fact.

  • Note that, incredibly, not one car actually traded any paint with any other car. Not one. It was the freakiest display of luck I’ve ever seen, because not one of those fifteen-odd cars was in any kind of control, whatsoever.

Act III, Revenge: Driver X has now really lost his face. He’s failed in an aggressive manoeuvre in front of every car on the road, and we’re talking about one of the busiest roads in Shanghai. And now people are getting out of their cars and shouting at him, well, let’s just say that his meaningless existence has just been brought home to him. And then he sees Mr Black Santana, just up the road, giving him the Smile. And he’s off after him (well, actually, it did take him a good three minutes to get his car pointing the right way again, after all that sliding around the road). Mr Black Santana, of course, is well away by this time, has made an illegal U-turn, and is heading back the opposite direction. Driver X, having lost all his face, now has nothing left to live for. He throws his taxi around and heads back down the road, actually managing to catch up with Mr Black Santana, and starts trying to force him into the central barrier. His driving skills may have been on a par with my grandmothers, but the excitement level was higher than anything the Duke Boys ever managed in the General Lee. Yours truly was bounced around the interior like a rag doll, head hitting the seat in front (twice), the door frame to the left (once) and the door frame to the right (twice). It was not fun at all. Of course, I suggested that he might want to stop the car, to which he gave the traditional “Wait a moment” reply. And then I made some suggestions about his mother and some anatomically difficult positions he could attempt, but all to no avail. And then both he and Mr Black Santana spun out of control and came to a halt. I wasn’t waiting around for the Police to arrive and arrest me for being a foreigner (and yes, certainly it would have been my exclusive fault. Honestly), so I leaped out of the taxi and headed for the side of the road, not stopping until I got there. I looked back to see Driver X getting out of the car to come after me (for non-payment of the fare!), and decided he was going to get his eyeballs punched out the back of his skull, when Mr Black Santana took off again. Driver X, horribly torn between getting money and getting face, paused a moment, before jumping back in his taxi and roaring off after him.

Act IV, The Aftermath: This all took place on Saturday afternoon. I write this blog entry late Monday evening. My neck is still a little stiff, but the headache has almost gone away now (note to self: fix another martini). There’s very little for me to learn from the experience, because none of it comes as any kind of surprise. When ones lives amongst such ‘people’, one comes to understand the concept of All Face, No Shame all too well. The sorry fact is, that the colossal arrogance of these peeps is matched only by their world-spanning vengefulness and vastly inflated sense of spite. And whilst this isn’t new news to me, perhaps there’s something in that for my readers who think that China is a country where Kung Fu masters meditate on the tops of mountains and everyone is harmonious.

The End.

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3 Responses to “A Matter of Face.”

  1. Rob said

    This is the complete Chinese taxi experience. It should be mandatory reading for anyone thinking about living in China.

  2. Absolutely amazing!

  3. madne0 said

    In the immortal words of one Will Smith…”dayum!”

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