Tuesday, March 8, 2011

taxis and then (maybe) jazz. if you're lucky.

Until going out this Saturday-just-passed, I operated under the premise that Chinese taxi drivers were no different from the general breed of taxi drivers found worldwide on my travels to date. They are commonly friendly, and the conversation flows (without fail) in the following way:

“You are from America?”
      “No - Australia”
“Oh! Nicole Kidman!”
      “Yes! Nicole Kidman!”
“Nicole Kidman! You are like her!”
      “Yes! I am like Nicole Kidman!”
“Nicole Kidman!”
“And Kangaroos!”
      “And what?”
“Boing boing boing!!! Skippy!”
      “Skippy! Yes!”
“Yes! Skippy!”
“You are like Skippy!”
      “No, I am not like Skippy, but I like Skippy.”
“Nicole Kidman?”
      “Yes. Nicole Kidman.”

By this stage we have arrived at the destination. The driver is ecstatic and I am exhausted. Occasionally I am asked for a photo, mostly I run before I have to talk too much more.  

Now, this Saturday-just-passed, has passed, and I now believe that Chinese taxi drivers are a completely different breed. Let me take you through the evening in an easy-to-follow, chronological anecdote.

We finish a lovely dinner and brave a brisk stroll in the rain before luckily (read: or was it?) finding a free taxi. Climbing in, we hand over a scrawled post-it note with (what we believe is) the address of a great jazz club nearby on it. Taxi driver looks nothing like his registration photo. He looks at the address, looks at the three of us kids, and starts driving. We ask him (in Chinese) if he knows where he is going – “Of course!” He exclaims, as if we had insulted his professional integrity. Nevertheless, he initiates a phone call on his mobile, and takes us around a few corners and onto the highway.

Wait – highway?
This place is supposed to be in our neighbourhood. Maybe we got it wrong. Yeah we must have got it wrong. Surely. Probably.
We’ll see.
It’s only been ten minutes and he’s taking a turn from the highway – ok, so it’s all good.
Wait – we are on another highway?
No – we are on the same highway. We are travelling in the exact opposite direction. Back up the highway.

We ask him (in Chinese) which way is he taking us? – “What other way do you suggest I take!?” He angrily retorts. None of us can respond, and now we see that he knows that we don’t know where we are going. So we drive in circles for another twenty minutes, with the meter ticking over suspiciously fast. Finally he drops us, in the rain, in front of a Hot Pot restaurant. A ludicrous taxi fare paid and we are hustling ourselves into the premises in front of us, trying to ask the waiter (in Chinese) if there is a jazz bar nearby – 
“No jazz. What address are you looking for?”
We show him the now rain-soaked post-it note. He stares at us, and we are informed that this post-it note, in fact, has two addresses written down on it.


“But-“ he adds, “there is some live music around the corner from here.”

Excellent! We thank him profusely and follow his directions until our ears take us the rest of the way. We are aurally led to a small but packed bar with shocking 80’s covers assaulting our ears. We've spent a lot of money on the taxi to get here, so a quick beer at this joint is surely worth it. Stepping inside, however, it becomes rapidly clear that ours is not the target demographic. 

To sit down we would have to spend the equivalent of twenty wonton dinners – and the singer has now moved on to Rhianna’s ‘Love the Way You Lie’. 
There are no instruments, only synth keyboards.
A swift decision to split is unanimously supported.

Rounding the corner, we cannot afford an icecream at the Italian delicatessen, nor can we see any movies at the cinema in English.
What do we do? We hike up our hoods and hit the street in search of another taxi. Now armed with the knowledge that we can point out the single (what we believe is) correct address and that the fare should be no more than 30RMB, we jump in the first vehicle we can hail.
Within five minutes of driving we are on a highway.

Wait – a highway?

Yes, apparently he is absolutely sure he is taking us to the address written on the paper. We ask him (in Chinese) which area of the city this address is in. “South side.” He says.
It is curious, then, that we are on the northbound highway…

Thirty-five disorientating minutes and another massive fare later, we are dropped in the rain, on the correct street. It is correct because the characters on the street sign match those written on our post-it! Success! At last!

Wait – this street is deserted. 
There is no music here. 
There are far too many police here. 

We find 117 – the number on our post-it. 
It is a clothing store. 
A closed clothing store.
It’s not even cool. 
What the hell do we do now? 

A small Cantonese restaurant is open, so we ask them (in Chinese) for a nearby jazz club.
“Club?” the lady says – “Just a couple of minutes walk down the street to the left.”

We walk with purpose now, looking forward to reaping the rewards for our misfortune. Only trouble is, there is no jumping music towards the end of this street. The further we walk, the darker it gets, and the police-car-per-metre meter increases.
The word ‘club’ has found us “Promise – Girls’ Club”, and it’s sister establishments.
We are now in the rain, on a dark street filled with dodgy ‘business’ transactions and no clue as to where we actually are – let alone where the bloody hell a jazz club might be. 

Now is time for us to really reassess our decision-making paradigm. A short chat later, however, and we are back in a taxi. The first one we could hail. On the way to ‘JZ Jazz Club’ – arguably the most famous in Shanghai. We head here because a scantily clad Japanese host girl (read: escort) with a coldsore on her bottom lip told us we were a ten minute drive from the place. Lord knows if she was telling the truth, but we didn't really have a lot of options. Apparently it is quite close.

Why is it then, that once more, we are on a highway. 

This time we have had enough. We make a fuss about photographing his driver ID, and we really give this guy a piece of our mind. The best part was when he realised that we knew that he knew we knew he was bullshitting us, and he tried to start bargaining a ‘happy medium’ price with us.

The ridiculousness of the situation was compounded by our exasperation at having a third taxi driver try and rip us off in just one evening. The irritation we felt (and consequently projected to this particular driver) was compounded by the fact that it was three hours since we finished dinner, and we were yet to hear any jazz.  

Perhaps sensing the high levels of said irritation, the driver took the next exit off the highway, did a big loop, and had us at JZ Bar in under ten minutes. Mashing the exact minimum fare into his greasy hand, we ran for it just in time to miss his muffled obscenities. Bless our youthful, spritely legs, because he sure was pissed.  

But it was no matter to us now! We could hear the bossa nova calling us in! A sultry siren’s song was luring us through these highly cover-charged doors. Stepping into the dry, dark, crowded bar was like being reborn into an underground oasis. We paid (far too much) for our beer, and then simply nestled ourselves into a comfy leaning position with a lovely view of the piano.

It did not matter that we had been ripped off three times by three different taxis (four if you count the drive home, on which we also got scammed). It did not matter that we just busted all of the weeks’ efforts of frugality. Nor did it matter that we were in jeans and hoodies at a cocktail venue. The music was too good, the company was too favourable, and we were all finally dry.

To finish the evening wonderfully, I ran into the singer of the band while I was waiting for friends to emerge from the bathrooms. I opened with some gushing and flattery, and was struck by how wonderfully modest and lovely this lady was! And then! She spotted the drum sticks sticking out of my bag! She asked if I was a drummer! I told her I was learning! She told us that every Saturday night at 2:30am (so technically on Sunday – not that I corrected her) the official programme finishes and they open the stage for a public jam session!

Looks like we just found our new Saturday night go-to venue.
Let’s just hope we can actually get there in under three hours next week. It’ll take some prayers. And maybe some new Chinese cuss words.

1 comment:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...