Friday, January 02, 2009

A Friendly Warning To Harbin Visitors

Here was the scene as we left the Harbin Ice and Snow World earlier this evening (right after a rousing chorus of fireworks that added even more color to the evening)...

All along the side of the parking lot and road were taxis and private cars, lined up to ferry people back across the river to the city proper. "Great," we thought. "No problem hitching a ride to the hotel."

As we were having this happy thought, we were interrupted by a series of hawkers, presumably owners of those ubiquitous little silver vans, offering to drive us back to town. Duo shao qian, I inquired. Wu shi kuai, came the response. Now, keep in mind that it cost us 22 kuai, in a metered taxi, to get out to the park. So, I didn't even slow down for a second when receiving offers of 50 kuai for the return trip. One persistent driver chased after us and lowered the price down to 40 kuai. At this point, Julie suggested that we just ignore these drivers and hail a cab.

Upon reaching the main road, that's just what I did. The driver rolled down the window and made an offer of 40 kuai. "How about you use the meter?" This inquiry/suggestion was met with laughter. It was a good idea, Julie. It's just that even the taxi drivers are looking to get in on some of the action come ice festival time.

Now, at this point, one driver was still chasing after us, and his price had come down to 30 kuai. Now we were at least in the ballpark. And it was an offer significantly better than what anyone else had come up with. So into the van we jumped.

The only problem? We didn't actually start going anywhere. Instead, the driver began to troll the side of the road for a couple of other passengers. You see, there were still two empty seats, and I guess he was determined to fill them before making the trip into town. At one point, he jumped out of the van altogether, his hunt apparently getting more and more desperate.

We then decided to force the issue a bit. When he was maybe fifty yards down the road, working the crowd at a bus stop, the four of us jumped out and began walking down the road. At that point, he came sprinting back. I yelled out to him in Chinese, "We can get there quicker if we walk!" That seemed to do the trick, and off we went.

The whole first half of the trip, the driver tried to convince me that we had to add money to the 30 kuai price, because we were his only passengers. Then, at one point, I noticed that he seemingly wanted to go in a direction that was not where our hotel is located. My suspicion was that he wanted to find a closer, more central place to unload us, so he didn't have to go all the way out to where we are staying. When I began to point out his "error," he changed tactics yet again. Wo zhidao, he said over and over again. "I know where the hotel is. I know better than those taxi drivers." And sure enough, he got us home lickety split.

His last gambit? As I was paying, he used a really whiny Chinese phrase...xinku. It's kind of like saying, "Oh, this is so bitter. I've taken you all the way out here. Can't you pay just a little bit more for my arduous and earnest effort?" Needless to say, I didn't go for that line. I do, however, have his business card. There is the ride back out to the airport in a couple of days to think about...

~Steve

PS: Speaking of the airport, you may want to negotiate the price to your hotel before jumping into a taxi when you arrive. And always keep an eye out on the meter, to make sure it is working, but not running too fast...

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