Saffy: That’s what happens when you’re away on my birthday. Saffy turned 16 last June 15.
The day after ASEAN foreign ministers took a swipe at Beijing and then took it back because the Malaysians didn’t want to offend Beijing, I found myself in a taxi in Beijing, in the middle of a quarrel that started over nothing. The quarrel was instigated by the taxi driver, compounded by our inability to understand each other’s language, and aggravated by everyone’s tendency to start yelling as if turning up the volume would bring clarity to the issue.
In short, I had landed in a metaphor.
My two colleagues and I had gone to the Circle Market to buy souvenirs and Mao kitsch. The doorman at our hotel had called a taxi for us. It was past 6pm, rush hour, and the doorman said it might be difficult for us to get a taxi back to the hotel. The fare to Circle Market was 13 Chinese Yuan Renminbi (CNY, the exchange rate today being PHP7.07 to CNY1).
Circle Market looks like Virra Mall in the 90s. I was kicking myself for overpaying for a Vladimir Putin T-shirt for my sister that I could probably get cheaper in Greenhills, but I was in a hurry. Also, I just wanted the seller to get out of my face. We got our shopping done in an hour. There was a taxi on the curb, so we piled in and showed him the hotel card. So far, everything was fine.
A few blocks from the hotel, our companion, who was the designated wallet, noted that the fare on the meter was already CNY28, more than twice what we’d paid earlier. The route had not seemed longer this time around. “Maybe there’s a rush hour surcharge?” I said, not wanting to assume that we were being cheated, though the evidence was right there. Also I did not feel like having an argument in sign language.
A block from the hotel, the taxi driver stopped, pointed to the meter, and said, “Give me 100.”
From the BBC: South China Sea: The mystery of missing books and maritime claims