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Frances Chen's China Journal
Thoughts and adventures of a Chinese-American living in China


Attitude from a Cab Driver
June 25, 2007

I waited up late for my friend to arrive from Xiamen (south of China) to Beijing.  Apple is as sweet as her name suggests.  She called me from the cab to get directions to my house and she was telling me how angry her cab driver was with her because he had waited in line at the airport for so long and she was only going a relatively short distance.  Hmmm…should we really sympathize?   He had such attitude with her that he wouldn’t even take her phone so I could tell him how to get to my place.  He simply refused and had her figure it out and explain it to him.  He was also trying to get her to pay extra for his “loss”.  Luckily she is Chinese and was able to just say, “This is your job, not mine.”

I told her that on occasion you will get a disgruntled cab driver.  The same thing happened to me about half a year ago when I too was coming home late one night from the airport.  I couldn’t figure it out why he was mad.  He was mumbling and grunting and said something about “Lido”, an area northeast of Beijing on the way out to the airport.  I thought he was asking me, “why can’t you go to Lido instead?” and I said, “because I don’t live in Lido, I live at Dongzhimen Street inside the second ring road!”.  Apparently what he was trying to tell me was that I should have told the ticket guy that I wanted to go to Lido instead.  Because it is so close to the airport and the fare is small, those that take passengers there get the privilege of coming back to the airport, to the front of the cab line.  Of course, you would help out a cab driver immensely if you know to say this, but the question is what’s in it for the passenger?  The fare is the same whether or not you choose to be charitable.

It’s a gamble for cab drivers to wait at the airport.  Sometimes they get the unknowing foreigner who they can charge $300US to rather then 80 kuai ($10US) and sometimes they get the savvy Chinese who could care less if the cab drive can make a few extra bucks.  All I can say is that I can’t wait for the new train that will go from the airport straight to my neighborhood. Hopefully I’ll still be in Beijing to enjoy it.


Tango Hutong
June 24, 2007

Earlier I wrote about my friend’s siheyuan in the hutongs, which I’ve been spending a lot of time helping out and I also wrote an entry on Tango.  Now the two have come together.  The siheyuan will be hosting five tango workshops this summer with this weekend being the first.  The place is still a few weeks from completion, but we needed to make the inside as presentable as possible.  We bought tons of plants to mask the roughness of the place and we decorated the tea room so people would have a nice place to rest.  Stacey had a great idea to write a letter to all our curious neighbors.  The first time we had a party a few weeks ago, they all thought we were opening a bar and called the police.  This time Stacey felt it was important to show our sincerity in not causing any trouble so she constructed a one page letter (later translated into Chinese) explaining who she was and her love for Tango.  She also wanted them to know that we were doing a Tango class with all our 50 friends and not to worry they wouldn’t be lingering outside into the street, their biggest concern last time.  After she passed it out around the neighborhood, she starting receiving warm smiles and friendly hellos and questions like  “ni xi huan tango wu ma?” or “you like to tango dance?”  And when she would walk past a group of them she would here them say to each other excitedly, “That’s our new neighbor!”  The gesture proved extremely helpful when all the neighbors helped direct our lost friends through the hutongs.  Some of the young kids when they saw a westerner would ask, “you go to Tango?” and then they would point in the direction they needed to go.  My number was included on the map in case anyone got lost and not one person had to call me, quite surprising considering how windy the maze-like the hutong lanes can be.



Tango Crazy
June 21, 2007

Tango is on the rise in Beijing. I have been in and out of the scene here for the last two years. I’ve seen it go from a handful of foreign tango babies to a room full of intermediate foreigners and local Chinese. Today we had two young Tango teachers, Giggio and Marina, arrive from Brazil, whom will be staying for the next 2 months to teach a series of workshops and weekly classes. They will be renting a part of my friend/neighbor’s apartment so they are my new neighbors as well. I have to mention there are already two people living at the apartment, Stacey and Tina, so it will be quite cozy. Anyway, Giggio and Marina have an ambitious schedule. They arrived into town at noon and already had their first free introductory class scheduled for 7:30 p.m. I go to pick up Stacey, thinking the teachers left long ago to get to the class early, but as I arrive at 7, they are just waking up from their much-needed afternoon nap. So we decide to leave together and ask if they know how to ride a bike? Because biking is the only way we get around in Beijing. It’s actually very pleasant riding in the warm summer nights after the traffic has subsided.

We let them use Tina’s bike, which has foot peddles in the back so Giggio and Marina could double up. As we all started riding, I wasn’t so confident that Giggio had ridden a bike before. The first indication was that he was riding with the kickstand down for a good 200 meters before Stacey had to point it out to him. Understanding we had a couple of newbies on the road, it was best to go slower then usual. I noticed he was a little wobbly and wasn’t reacting fast enough to on-coming bikes and motorcycles. But part of me wanted to throw them into the deep end. Since they will be living here for 2 months, it’s important they learn the ways of the road real fast. After about 10 minutes, I take the lead and suddenly hear from behind a loud scraping. I turn around as Marina is squealing and see them hit the ground, stuff flying from their front basket all out onto the bike lane. Marina looks like she really hurt her knee and sits in shock for a few minutes. Stacey runs over to see if she is ok and she is. Giggio, also in shock, still manages to be productive and helps get the bikes onto the sidewalk as well as everything else. We had only one person stop to ask if we were all right and he was a foreigner. The Chinese usually just watch and dare not to get involved. Unfortunately, they are too afraid they will be held responsible in some way if they try to help so often they just stand around helplessly.

I just couldn’t believe this happened! It was their first day in Beijing and as we are rushing them to teach their first class, they have a spill on a bike and Marina scrapes her knee. I felt pretty responsible. It may not have been my idea to let them ride, but I didn’t stop them. So I go ahead and rush off to class to tell the organizer what happened. Stacey locked up the bikes to the nearest tree and was suppose to get them in a cab and to the class as soon as possible. But bless her heart; she decides to let them walk the rest of the way to let them compose themselves. They might have been late 20 minutes, but once the class started, they jumped right into teaching and forgot all their troubles.

The story ends with two bikes. Stolen.

From Russia…With love
June 22, 2007

When people think of entertainment in Beijing, they usually think of the Chinese acrobats, maybe a Kungfu performance or Beijing Opera, but very rarely would they think of Russian dancers. With the country being China’s largest neighbor, you would expect much of the culture to be evident in major Chinese cities. My friends and I occasionally go to check out the Russian nightclubs here in Beijing. There are some with daily late night Las Vegas-style dance performances, all-inclusive with skimpy outfits adorned in glitter and big feather headpieces. In between these dance numbers, they have these Russian Karaoke singers singing Chinese songs. I am always impressed with how fluent they sound. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised since there are so many Russians who speak Chinese, mainly out of necessity. Many of them come to China to find work and to enjoy all the opportunities a booming economy can offer. I have only two Russian friends and they are both named Alona. The older Alona was a fitness instructor at the gym I use to go to and now she has opened her own pilate/yoga studio here in Beijing. The younger Alona, who once had a cab driver ask her,” Why are Russian women so beautiful when they are young and so ugly when they are old?” is from the Tango crowd and is an excellent dancer. They are both similar in that they are strong women and seem quite ambitious in their own ways. I don’t claim to know much about Russian women, but I know most prefer to be here then back at home because it might be more financially rewarding. However, I can’t help, but feel a bit sorry for those women who are made to dance night after night in the same club. Until today, I saw the same women performing more or less the same stuff for two years. After awhile you could see through their plastic smiles and could tell they were on autopilot. They were doing the dance moves, but with little enthusiasm. I don’t know what’s worse, being dead or acting dead.