Conversations with Taxi Drivers
by Tatiana Luna
I was just looking through some of my old notes, reminding myself of what’s there when I ran across this one, a description of two enlightening conversations I had with two separate taxi drivers in Guangzhou. Conversations with taxi drivers have generally been some of the most interesting I’ve had in China. What’s in the quotation box are my word for word notes, so they’re a little sketchy.
The taxi driver who drove me to my hotel in 广州 said, “美国平衡” meiguo pingheng: “America is balanced.” Meaning the social classes are more balanced. I don’t remember the Chinese exactly, but he was saying that in China very few people have all the money and the rest have none, something along those lines.
The taxi driver taking me to 广州外语外贸大学 Guangzhou Foreign Language University said, “美国是天堂” meiguo shi tiantang: “America is a paradise” [Incidentally, I have heard this several times before from other people, but that’s another blog post]. He waved off any of my protests that “美国有问题” meiguo you wenti: “America has problems.”
“你会讨厌中国” (ni hui taoyan zhongguo): “You will hate China,” he said.
I said “你们发展会好了” nimen fazhan hui haole: “When you [meaning China] develops it will be better.”
In response he said, no, “中国人是黑人 zhongguo ren shi hei ren. 他们变坏变黑” tamen bian-huai-bian-hei.
Here, an explanation is needed. 黑人 heiren literally means black person, as in dark skin. But I believe he meant they are “corrupt people” since 黑暗 hei’an means ‘dark’ and ‘corrupt’. However, it seems blackness and corruption go hand and hand both in the language and, thus, in the culture. Dark skin is often considered a very negative trait for a Chinese person to have. Dark skin is associated with ugly and poor. Is dark skin also associated with corruptness?
The last four characters 变坏变黑 bian-huai-bian-hei, sound a lot like a 成语 chengyu, one of the four-character sayings full of cultural innuendo that make Chinese unique. However, I haven’t been able to find a succinct translation or explanation online, so it’s possible it’s not a chengyu, it just sounds catchy. Anyway, it’s literally translated as “to degenerate and to darken.” Perhaps a more eloquent translation would be something like, “They [Chinese people] are degenerating and getting darker.” “They are becoming more corrupt and darker.” Or even just, “They are becoming more and more corrupt.” Something like that. It seems difficult to translate because of this ambiguity in the word 黑 hei. Is “black” just a euphemism for corrupt, or is there a literal understanding of the connection between the color and the attribute?
Anyway, this second taxi driver was adamant and seemed genuinely disgusted with China, while the first was more matter of fact and speaking specifically about the wealth gap. Neither of them mentioned the government very specifically as a cause of any of the problems ailing China, at least not in a way that I caught. I can understand more Chinese than I can speak, but I’m still at a stage where I fill in some gaps in a fast conversation and mostly focus on keywords that I hear. I believe I would have heard the word for government 政府 zhengfu.
The second taxi driver’s emotion and candor surprised me, but also gave a much more interesting conversation than the usual chit chat. But what to make of it? Is he spouting some kind of racial determinism, that Chinese people are bad people and nothing can change it? Is this some ‘dark’ propaganda spreading among the poor in China, or even a ‘dark’ legacy perhaps? What does this guy think of the government’s role in the corruption of the Chinese people? The government hardly matters in a world where Chinese people are just black at heart from birth. Whatever the implications or backstory of this man’s narrative, this man has his own hatred for this country, and I’m willing to bet that the drudgery, dare I say slavery? of being a taxi driver in Guangzhou has played no small part.