Singapore | London | Beijing

Getting Around With Didi

Taxi drivers don't like you, and you probably don't like them either. It's a generalisation of course, but I just want to touch on why foreigners get a bad rep and how to avoid unpleasant taxi rides in China before talking about why Didi Chuxing is better than Uber, Lyft or Grab.

Image credit:  gif-able

Image credit: gif-able

Several years ago a few friends and I, all foreigners, were trying to get a taxi to head home after some New Year's Day partying. We'd been trying to flag one down for ages but no taxi would stop for us, even though their lights were on and they had no passengers. I decided to walk away from my friends to see if a single girl could get more luck, after all it was the wee hours of the night... I got one almost immediately. The disgruntled driver looked on while we packed his car with laowai.

Ask a big city taxi driver in China and you'll hear countless accounts of how drunk foreigners behave poorly. Rude and rowdy, what limited spoken Chinese that could have been used to get home is reduced to incoherent utterances. They lose their ability to communicate where they're going or even remember where they live. This sort of drunk behaviour is not unlike that of the locals except the language barrier just got raised to a whole new level and taxi drivers often end up having to spend way more time dealing with the situation, and lose significant income.

On another occasion, I was in a taxi and saw a couple caught in the rain and trying to get a taxi. The taxi driver I was riding with said to me, "Ha! Stupid woman! I wouldn't pick them up even if I wasn't driving you." "Why?" I asked him. Not realising I was a foreigner, he replied, "I hate all these laowai and the women who are with them."

In 2015, there was a stabbing incident in Beijing where a Chinese woman was killed and her French partner seriously injured. According to the NY Times, the police had determined "no reason" for the attack. One of my friends re-posted the following on WeChat:

Guys, it is very bad news. Our captain roro s wife has been killed by a crazy guy using a 1 meter long knife ("sabre" in french) a few hours ago in sanlitun. They were coming out of the embassy to officialize their wedding when they came accross this crazy chinese guy who told roro he did not like american people. He replied he was french. They left and he inserted his long knife inside isabelle s back.. Trying to defend her, the knife went inside roro s belly twice.... Isabelle died right after she made it to the hospital. Romain is going through an operation now because it was bleeding inside his body..This happened exactly 2 years after the murder of an american citizen in joyce city.. I can t find the words... Huge shock

It is important to be aware that as idolised as you may feel as a foreigner in China, there are some very serious anti-western sentiments lurking and we should be careful when we're in another country.

I got a little sidetracked over there. Now back to Chinese taxi drivers - they are usually from low-income families, they're uneducated and they don't speak a lick of English. They work long hours and make very little money. Your "unique China experience" is incomplete without meeting a loud taxi driver who clears his throat noisily every five minutes and projects a ball of phlegm out of the window that's left half-open so that it doesn't reek of stale cigarettes. He might refuse you, he might ditch you before you reach your destination, or he might take you for a ride and overcharge you. When you grow out of the novelty of such encounters, when most of your taxi rides end with swearing and door slamming, do yourself a favour and learn how to use the Didi app.

Proper training

We've all met that one taxi driver who wouldn't stop talking, or the one that turned his tunes all the way up playing stuff you couldn't appreciate. How about the one who watched you through his rearview mirror when you were late for a flight and frantically trying to unload two oversized suitcases from a boot that was still locked. Didi drivers are trained to offer "premium service" and by that it means they will maintain a clean and tidy appearance, they will gauge your response before chatting with you, music is off or at a low volume, and they even open the door for you.

Champagne and caviar

Ok, maybe not champagne or caviar but you get complimentary bottled water and they carry charging cables of every sort to make sure your mobile devices never run out of battery.

No cancellation fees

Changed your mind about getting a taxi? Unlike Grab, you can cancel your ride request anytime. Had to make a run to the bathroom and arrived late at the pickup point? Your driver will call to let you know that he's arrived and wait right where he is. He's not going to drive off and charge you for not showing up like Lyft or Grab. During peak hours, you're not going to get ripped off by Lyft Prime Time (500% in Portland?!) or Uber's surge pricing and still wait 20 minutes for a pickup. According to a recent Sina post, Didi surcharges are now capped at 50% or a ceiling of 59RMB (US$8.56). There is also a no-surcharge version of the Didi app that lets you decide how much more you're willing to pay to encourage or entice a driver to come and get you.

Understandably, no system is without its flaws and situations where you can't get a ride because taxi drivers sitting right under your nose are waiting for you to offer more money is widespread and common. Flag down a regular taxi, or pay for the comfort and convenience. Or maybe sometimes all you need is another drink and avoid the rush hour.