Steering up the perfect pig dish

By Xie Fang ( China Daily ) Updated: 2007-07-20 10:41:47

Steering up the perfect pig dishIn Shanghai, if a taxi driver were to ask you what is the meaning of life, you would be shocked, as Shanghai cabbies are quiet and professional as they go about their job.

But not so in Beijing.

Beijing cabbies are known for kandashan - talking of the big mountains.

Taxi drivers have the best knowledge of the changes Beijing has seen in recent years as they drive through the city all day long, picking up juicy bits of information.

Above all, they are so proud of being a Beijinger. They show their hospitality to those from other cities by sharing their extensive "knowledge" - especially when in an expansive mood.

The topics can be wide-ranging, from politicians and film stars to the new high-rise buildings and tales of ancient city gates.

"Cantonese people can eat everything, while Beijingers can talk about everything," a cabbie charmingly explained to me.

Once, I took a cab at the airport.

The driver seemed unhappy, claiming that he preferred to go home and cook for his wife rather than waiting three hours for a lone passenger.

In order to cheer him up, I asked him what his favorite dish was.

That was just what he needed to start off. He launched into an elaborate explanation of how to cook pig's feet and how people just loved his recipe.

And he went on - and on. Even as I got off the taxi, he stuck his head out to instruct me: "Remember to put in some fermented bean curd for that perfect dish of pig's feet."

I could feel the keen gaze of pedestrians on me at this curious exchange and tried to get away as fast as my legs would carry me.

In contrast, Shanghai cabbies seem to be such a colorless lot. Even if they break their silence, all they can talk of is the heavy traffic or their work pressures. But they do keep their taxis clean!

In my hometown, Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, native taxi drivers are as rare as giant pandas. Many owners rent the cars to drivers from other provinces - Henan and Anhui for instance - while they relax beside the idyllic West Lake.

I have become used to communicating with drivers in putonghua rather than in the Hanghzou dialect, to make sure they get the right address.

One day I got into a taxi, and spoke to the driver in putonghua. As we reached my destination, I let slip a few words in the Hangzhou dialect.

"You are from Hangzhou!" the driver cries out. "Why didn't you tell me earlier? You have made me trying very hard to practice my poor putonghua!"

(China Daily 07/20/2007 page20)

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