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[My Weekender] Your Average Shanghai Taxi Driver

He's the long-suffering workhorse who ferries you from dinner to club. It's an average weekend for working class hero Wang Shifu.
Last updated: 2015-11-09
Wang Shifu is your average-looking grumpy Shanghainese taxi driver. He's 53 years old and has worked for Qiansheng (强生) Taxi Company for more than 20 years. Here he breaks down his typical weekend.

First of all, it is terrible to work as a taxi driver, and it’s especially bad to be stuck in such a terrible job for more than 20 years.

Driving a taxi is one of the least respected and most difficult jobs there is. One can never become rich by working as a taxi driver. The government doesn’t care about us, and neither do the taxi companies. My company charges me 300rmb per working day for the car, all the rest of the costs are all on me, and they don’t care if I get no customers or 100 customers or even get in an accident. No matter what, I always have to pay the company upfront a month in advance! It’s more or less the same deal with any other taxi companies. The better the company, the more they charge, but then more people will be ready to pick you from a stream of flashing empty cabs if you drive for a better company.

I'm constantly worried about where to go to get the best fare prospects, what’s the best route to avoid traffic, how to avoid any accidents or arguments (which are a terrible waste of my working time), which customers are the best to pick up, where to eat and go to the toilet in each area… And, no matter how well or terribly I did today, tomorrow is a fresh new start and I have to be hungry to get as many customers as possible. After all that, I make around 4,000rmb a month, just an average blue-collar salary. I eat at really disgusting street-side cabby diners where I can park my car for free and get a basic meal for 15rmb.

The experience of being a taxi driver is pretty awful, too. Being yelled at on the job is very common for us. Sometimes I get attacked by drunken passengers, and I can’t really fight back if I still want them to pay me, right? And, of course, some of them also puke in my cab. But I quite like foreigners. I think foreign girls are beautiful and sexy. They like to wear revealing frocks and they smile at me and even chat with me occasionally. Many times, I’ve seen foreigners make out in my taxi, whether they are drunk or not. That action’s better than the movies…

I don’t really have a weekend as such. I work one day and then take the next day off, because usually two drivers share one car and we basically rotate this way, endlessly. If I get sick, the company might be able to find a substitute driver for me for that day. If not, I still have to pay the 300rmb for the day, although I won’t be able to work. So taxi drivers don’t really have weekends.

How I spend my day off has changed a lot over the years. When I first started, there were not many taxis or cars in general, so it was a pretty cool job. I was young then, and every once in a while, I’d get hit on by some passenger, and we’d rent a motel room and have some fun during my off time. Then that stopped, so I started to visit hair salons or saunas sometimes to “relax”. I used to especially like saunas because I could spend the night there for free. After a few years, I got married and had a daughter. You know how women are crazy and controlling, so I had to leave behind my monkey business…

Like a lot of taxi drivers these days, I used to like to gamble, playing mahjong or cards during my time off. Usually I’d gamble from midnight to 6am and then hand over the car to my partner. Afterwards, I’d go to sleep, wake up at noon, and play mahjong again until midnight… I used to kill my time this way but, after a few years, I realized that gambling really doesn’t go with the taxi driver lifestyle. This is because we are too poor to handle the losses, which affect my mood at work a great deal, and gambling is too intense and tiring for us. Around Gonghe Xin Lu in Baoshan District, there are a lot of compounds where provincial taxi drivers rent rooms, where there are still nightly taxi driver mahjong or card game marathons going on. But our job is already very cut-throat, competitive, and nerve-racking, so I need something that’s truly relaxing for my time off.

I live by Peace Park in Hongkou District with my wife and daughter. Nowadays, I just relax on my days off by taking a walk in the park, shopping at supermarkets with my wife, and watching TV. Every once in a while, we go to the malls during sale seasons, and go out to nice restaurants with our relatives to celebrate holidays or birthdays. But in general I don’t have any particular hobbies or passions in life to devote my free time to. I’m just like a zombie. Also, my wife and daughter don’t like the fact that I’m a taxi driver because they think it’s too tiring and exhausting a job: when I work, I have no time to rest, but when I rest, I have nothing to do.

Over the years, it’s become increasing hard to make money as a taxi driver, with more and more taxis available, the price of fuel rocketing, the fees that the taxi company charges increasing, and the traffic becoming like a messy nightmare…

I envy bus drivers and company drivers or any other drivers, actually, but I am too old to get a job like that now, so I’m stuck. My plan for the future is simple: to driver seven more years and then I can legally retire at 60, so that I will never have to drive a taxi any more. Nothing could make me happier.

***

This is real account by a local taxi driver, but we changed his name, not at his insistence but just because he was so frank about his life and we didn’t want him to get into trouble with his wife. Tip your driver this weekend, folks. And try not to puke in their cabs.

*As told to Adam Ji

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