China’s cabbies are ‘cultured, sensitive souls’: cabbie

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Wang claimed the habit of giving passengers a dead-eyed stare through the rear-view mirror was merely a ruse

By HAO FENQING
Feelings Correspondent

BEIJING (China Daily Show) – The testimony of a Beijing taxi driver has shattered a long-standing pact of silence, revealing his peers as educated, sensitive artisans, and drawing the wrath of fellow cabbies.

With a penchant for “the Dutch masters, Cicero and dressage” Wang Miao, a 17-year veteran of the Capital Taxi Corporation, gave China Daily Show an insight into the two-faced world of Beijing taxi drivers during a drive back from Badaling, saying that the image they presented to their customers was “purely for business reasons,” and speaking fondly of the brief moments of solace cabbies enjoy between customers.

“After having dropped off a customer, grabbed his money and refused to acknowledge him, I allow myself to relax,” Wang said, as he angrily waved away a souvenir seller. “I switch from Beijing Renmin Guangbo Diantai to my audio book of Cicero’s greatest speeches and just let the pitch-perfect timbre and blissful grammar envelop me.”

Wang paused for a second at a red light, eyes closed, for a moment seemingly enraptured by the voice of the Roman orator. “We have nobody like this in China…” he murmured.

“The proud brushstrokes of Bruegel, van Aelst and the Dutch school,” he later answered when asked about his other interests. He and several other Beijing cabbies regularly attend dressage screenings in a small hutong in Fengtai district – he tipped Germany Isabell Werth’s for gold in 2012 – and Wang added that a trip to a De Sica film festival was scheduled for after the Spring Festival.

“It’s not just about the radio show,” Wang continued, his palm resting in the well-worn groove of the horn. “People expect us to be a certain way. They could never tolerate a shifu to have any real knowledge.”

He has come close to being caught several times. “Once I was stopped at a food stand, engrossed in Proust, when a regular customer walked by and recognized me. I had to pretend a foreigner had left it in the cab. We both took turns laughing before I was forced to hand the book to a passing jianpolan’r. I’ve had a few funny looks listening to Schubert in traffic, too.”

Asked whether his company was aware of his true nature, he answered grittily, swerving between oncoming buses. “My bosses have no idea. But I play along, I have a wife and daughter to feed, I just try to get out of there as soon as I can.”

Wang thought that hiding a cultured, worldly façade is common among Beijing taxi drivers. “Some of us have weekly meetings, symposiums if you will,” Wang remarked, between puffs on a quid of Old Gold Flake in his 1930 horn-handled enameled Dunhill stem pipe.

The antique smoking implement, he explained, was looted from an English soldier’s body by one of Wang’s ancestors after the burning of Yuanmingyuan in 1860. “We discuss hot-button issues. Last week, for example, it was the perennial debate: Sir Simon Rattle or Nikolaus Harnoncourt?”

But Wang’s revelations have not met with the approval of some of his fellow drivers. “Who told you this?” one demanded, his eyes fixed suspiciously on this reporter in his rear-view mirror. “I want a name,” he added, before we made our excuses and left.

The driver later called us back. “Was it Fang Qian?” he wanted to know. “That guy’s got a mouth on him. You shouldn’t believe the things he tells you. She had an ID card that said she was 17, and Mongolian.”

Dropping us off, meanwhile, Wang spotted a stern-looking Chinese businessman approaching and rapidly emptied his cherished pipe, ejecting the Cicero tape. The car was once again flooded with the reassuring sounds of yet another radio adaptation of Outlaws of the Marsh.

“‘Qu nar [Where to]?’ he barked at the suit, as he threw luggage in the trunk. Upon being told, Wang shooked his head gruffly, muttered an imprecation and slammed the lid down – just another journey for one of Beijing’s forgotten scholar-drivers.

Some names have been changed to protect the identity of  interviewees

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