Taxi ride to airport provides near-death experience

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Until today, the worst taxi ride I ever had was in Korea, curiously enough at the Seoul Olympics, exactly 20 years ago.

A gap of 20 years between that taxi ride and last night's - from the Qingdao CBD to the airport - is not long enough, I'm afraid. To say I needed a cup of tea and a lie down after my trip to the airport is like saying Sichuan chicken can be a bit spicy.

In Korea, we actually made the mistake of asking the driver to get to our destination quickly. He did. At the start of the journey, I had black hair...

But at least he was only doing what we asked, although we did not expect his eyes to light up with quite such glee nor his driving to take us so close to the edge - the edge of the road, the edge of other cars, the edge of trucks, the edge of lunacy, the edge of life itself.

But my Qingdao driver - let's call him Charles after Charles Bronson of the Death Wish movies, because he certainly looked a bit like Bronson and he most definitely had a death wish - had no such instructions.

Leaving the Olympic yachting venue, I uttered only one word: airport. Charles apparently took that to mean that I was in a hurry.

It came to me during this hair-raising trip that China had missed a trick at the Beijing Olympics. They could have instituted a series of new Olympic events at which the US would be absolutely crap and which might spell the difference between beating the Americans in the medal race and not.

Here they are:

1) Lane changing. You do this without warning and at speed, including dodging into a gap where there doesn't seem to be enough space for your car.

2) Horn blowing. You blow your horn for everything, especially when changing lanes and especially when not changing lanes. If you cruise up alongside another car, you sound your horn - because you can't be sure the guy alongside you won't change lanes just as crazily as you do. Finally, you blow your horn when you stop at the lights (Why? I don't know) and you blow your horn when the green light comes on. You do this even if the guy in front of you has already moved off.

If we'd put Charles into the Olympics, China would have had two gold medals, no danger. Whoops, now there's a misnomer.

The third event would be Road Kill (otherwise known as pedestrians). I do not know why Chinese pedestrians cross the roads other than at crossings. They stand in the impossibly busy roads, for all the world like targets, sometimes standing in the lanes, not even the white-line middle of the road. The taxi drivers then drive at them, often changing lanes to do so and always blowing the horn.

How more people don't die like this is beyond me. The onus of avoidance clearly seems to be with the pedestrians.

Charles' other talent was to gob off ferociously in Mandarin at other drivers who were apparently infringing the road code in some way; a code that never seemed to apply to him.

Charles was separated from me by one of those armoured-car partitions between front seats and back, so my frantic hand signals and shouts for him to go slower were ineffective.

When we arrived, I handed over some money, only for Charles to signal that he had no change. Truly, a death wish. But I was so pleased to still be alive that I weakly waved him away.

I just hope the tip finds its way to his wife and kids in the certain, inevitable fact of his death in a road accident.

This story was sourced from The New Zealand Herald