It is difficult to develop an understanding of China car culture without visiting and moving around the country.
We showed the taxi driver the name of our hotel and he was still none the wiser. Let’s be honest, neither were we.
At this point our bags were being taken from us, “Come with me. He won’t take you he won’t be able to find it, doesn’t have GPS I do, traffic will be light look at my rate card, I will do a deal and charge you 580CNY, see how far it is”.
We kept hold our bags and took the address to get it translated at the information desk. It is easy to forget but something you should always do travelling to China is get the name and address of your destination written in Chinese. Armed with this, we went back to the official taxis. Our ‘saviour’ didn’t look happy but we were on route. As usual it looked busy, chaotic and no quarter was being given by any of the drivers. As we put on our seat belts there was a catch, or rather a lack of one, well the driver didn’t have his on so we should be OK.
Looking around it isn’t quite what you might expect. You will have heard there are many car manufacturers in China (around 400), and therefore you may expect the roads to be full of makes you have never heard of, but around Beijing you will recognise most brands with the likes of Ford, Toyota, VW, Audi, and Hyundai filling the motorways. So similar airport journeys in both Great Britain and China!
It is only if you go further from the centre, that the local brands such as Chery or SAIC’s Roewe become more apparent and the further you go the more the balance shifts. This will inform you and help you understand where the wealth is, who is showing off that wealth and their brand awareness for social or business standing.
The taxi driver put his seat belt on, we shared a worried glance that the journey was about to get exciting. Although the horn is weapon number one, and it is a matter of pride to succeed in or prevent someone squeezing into a different lane, there seemed to be no road rage from any of the drivers. With his GPS directing him some 45 minutes later we arrived. We waited with some interest for the usual adding up of the road tolls and meter reading. Total 120, worth the time trying to communicate with the girl at the information desk!
Although a very short visit on this occasion, we did have a day between arriving and our presentation, so we took the opportunity to visit the incredible Great Wall of China and walk along a 4 mile section and back, a great experience.
Then later that day we visited the centre of Beijing to see some of the sites as well as some older parts of town. With a state occasion taking place the level of excitement and security around Tiananmen Square was high, so we made our way to Wangfujing St., walking through the tourist ‘China Town’ with its food outlets displaying live scorpions on skewers and numerous gift stalls with waving porcelain cats. A fantastic day and a nice distraction from the following days design review.
Our design presentation went well and we got an opportunity to enjoy a good meal with fellow designers, and exchange views on a number of subjects.
Overall a worthwhile trip and we set off back to the airport as our taxi driver did a good impersonation of Lewis Hamilton. At drop off, the usual adding up and pointing took place. We handed over the fare, and headed off to check in. As we stood at check in a good 15 minutes after leaving the taxi, I was tapped on the shoulder by our driver. He was placing 10CNY in my hand (£1); he had added up wrong and had spent some time finding us. Refusing to keep it as a tip he put it on our bags, so a shake of the hands and he left. Another insight to this fascinating culture.
China is a very foreign country of extremes, and without visiting difficult to comprehend, but our experiences there are always educational and rewarding helping us to understand the car culture.