I slid into the backseat of the taxi, slamming the door behind me. “Beijing West Road and Xizang Road,” I told the driver. “Beijing West Road and Xizang Road!” He repeated my destination cheerfully and put the meter down to start the ride.
It was late into the evening, and the radio played old Chinese songs as we drove along the brightly lit streets of beautiful Shanghai. The music was ceaselessly interrupted by the Didi app, aka the reason Uber failed in China. “Ding ding! Huaihai Road and Ruijin Road!” “Ding ding! Nanjing Road and Maoming Road!” The taxi driver ignored the ride requests, humming along to the radio; after a while, the Didi sounds blended as percussion into the symphony of sounds on the drive.
Suddenly, the blaring ringtone of the taxi driver’s phone interrupted. “Hello,” he answered.
“Shifu,” a young man said, calling driver ‘master’ as was common with the more polite youth in the city. “I’m the friend of the girl you just dropped off, Shifu, the one who forgot her wallet. I can pay you back now, I’m at the corner near where you just dropped her off – can you come here?” The conversation turned into one of figuring out meeting logistics and I sat in the back, quietly listening.
As soon as the call ended, I piped up. “Shifu, how did you know she was going to pay you back? What if she was just lying and you never got your money for driving her?” He laughed and shrugged. “It’s just 20 RMB – really, not a lot of money. It’s not a big deal, it’s just money, right?”
His attitude both surprised and touched me; in a city – country, really – where I was wary of being scammed or ripped off, his words felt an anomaly. But that was exactly the point: every moment I’ve spent in any town, any city, any country, I am taught over and over again that the people who make up its population are so incredibly unique. Some may be selfish, but others will be generous; some are out to scam me – but others are out to help.
My imperfect human tendency to generalize a culture, a people, a city was and is always being challenged and rebuked; this I owe to the intricacies of the human beings like the taxi driver that I met – if only for a ten-minute ride across central Shanghai.