Catching a taxi in Wuhan, China
Updated: Jun 12
I am the only light-skinned, pale-haired, blue-eyed person in the queue.
Lots of people keep joining the queue. The queue is a five-abreast line that snakes over the platform, hemmed into form by a two-meter high chain wire fence. Every new train arrival adds a few more hundred people to the back of the line, who push and shove at the queue and keep it packed tight.
Some people are abandoning the queue. Men pace up and down outside the fence shouting and, after a while, I understand they offer other means of transport. Sometimes people shout back and seem to engage in bargaining, strike a deal and then fight out of the queue-stream.
There are queue jumpers: Some people who joined the queue well after me suddenly to appear in front of me. I note the skill of a young man who, in spite of the large, cumbersome sack he carries, is suddenly next to me and then even further ahead.
The order of the queue is managed: A burly man stands at the head of the queue and allocates people to taxies. He is totally in charge of which taxis can come forward to the queue and who can board from the queue. No one argues with his decisions.
I decide that going for alternative transport is not an option for me – not able to speak the language or knowing the city, who knows where I might end up. I also decide that it's very important not to become distracted – one second of lapsed concentration means at least three people manage to sidle in front of me. After an hour-and-a-half of shuffling forward – and I'm definitely getting nearer to the head of the queue – an older woman with a face like a resentful battlefield shoulders past me. The sack of the young man who had earlier managed to get in front of me blocks her way. She shouts at the man, indicating the sack. A loud argument begins. The burly manager-man strides over and says something sternly to the woman. She retorts angrily but stops shoving, confining herself to muttering and glaring. I get to the head of the queue just when the same disagreeable woman starts abusing someone else. I've now been shuffling along in the queue for over two hours. I grimace: my feet are sore and I have had enough of the shouting and jostling. The burly man sees my distressed expression. He reaches past people, takes hold of my arm and pulls me forward. He points to a taxi. I duck into the back seat and give the driver the address card. The driver looks at the card, winds down his window, calls out to the burly man and jabs at the card. The burly man just indicates he has to move on. Looking anything but happy, the taxi driver shoves his foot onto the accelerator and the taxi bursts from the tunnel into the night, pouring rain and chaotic highway traffic. The driver has neglected to wind up the window again and rain washes over me – I slide hastily across the seat to get out of the worst of it. One of the taxi driver's hands sends the taxi into a frantic chase, weaving among cars, motorbikes, bicycles, bright lights and blaring horns; the other hand fiddles with his iphone. I realise the driver is attempting to Google directions to my address! Hand shaking with a mixture of approaching exhaustion and increasing fear, I call the travel agent on my phone, tell her my driver is lost and pass the phone to him. The driver listens briefly, tosses my phone back to me in the back seat then, thankfully, just concentrates on giving me a Lunar Park ride to my destination. As I pay, the driver gives me a grin. We laugh. We are the best of friends! I assume we are laughing about getting lost?