Transportation Desperation


There is an image abroad about the difficulty of finding taxis in the rain.  This image applies to Beijing.  We’ve had our troubles finding taxis in Beijing before but there has always ultimately been one.
Not today.  It was pouring rain from the moment we stepped outside our hotel, “Michael’s Place in Beijing”.  The taxis were just plain absent.  We walked, carrying our suitcases, in the direction of the metro station which is about a kilometer from the hotel and seems close when you’re not carrying luggage in the rain.  When nothing materialized, we got on the Metro thinking that another stop might be better.
The trains that go to Tanggu leave from Beijing South Station.  It’s necessary to take a taxi to a train leaving from Beijing South Station because the Metro hasn’t been extended to the station yet.  And, you’re carrying suitcases on a subway.
But the Metro was our only choice at this point.
We got off at Beijing Main Station cause we thought there would be taxis there, and there were at least three of them we saw, and a queue of supplicants about 800 meters long standing still.
There were also a few touts offering unofficial taxis at completely exorbitant rates.  200 Yuan to Beijing South Station (probably no more than 8 km distant)  For you, 150.
After assessing the possibilities, and considering we had not yet even bought train tickets for a train departing in less than two hours from a station we might well have to walk to, and couldn’t find the entrance to the metro that we’d just come out of the exit of, I asked a tout how much it was for a ride to the Tianjin Passenger terminal, 170 km distant in the prefecture of Tanggu, Tianjin.
That got his attention immediately, and he wrote a GREAT BIG number on his cell phone.  I offered 600, he said 9, I said 7, he said 800 so off we went to Tanggu.  But consider: the yuan is still undervalued.  Perform the thought experiment of asking a cab driver at Penn Station to drive you to Hartford.  Could you do it for $130?  Could you get to JFK?
It’s the custom in these extremely informal situations, that the guy who gets your business is not the driver.  Somewhere in the southeast of Beijing we pulled up to another house and he tried to raise the price to 900 but we said 800 based on pure bluster, since we were really in no negotiating position, and we got in the back of a really nice car and handed over a bunch of bills and only two hours later pulled up at the main terminal in Tianjin.  It was about noon.  Then it was only a matter of waiting four hours to get on the boat and four more hours for the boat to launch.
We are always told that the absolute worst thing that we can do for the planet, is to fly.  Why is flying so cheap, then?  The boats and buses burn the same oil as airplanes.  If they burn less of it, why is this savings not apparent?  Southwest Airlines is cheaper than Greyhound on most routes.
I’m waiting for ocean liners to make a comeback, as transportation rather than entertainment, but they’re going to have to get a lot more efficient at handling passengers than they are now.  The amount of incompetent milling about that attended the departure of the “Costa Classica” would make you think they had never left a port before.  Maybe the turnover is so high among the staff that they effectively haven’t.