Sunday, 6 January 2008

China Taxi

Taxi rides always fill him with a mixture of awe and fear. They seem to sum up everything that is different about China from home. Over the quiet hum of of a million electric motors is a cacophony of downloaded kareoke horns; videos flickering along the side of taxis flashing advertising; teenagers scooters decorated in strange holos of their favourite pop sites, images of divas from Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taiwan smearing in the air around them competing with rappers and rock bands depending on dress and inclination. Sam is only 24 but the Chinese youth make him feel old and slow with their devotion to fashion, colours and gadgets.

The taxi ascends on to the freeway and the computers take over from the driver with a short warning beep and a scripted message in Chinese, Hindi and English informing them of the additional insurance charge and their rights in the case of an accident. The messages are barely audible under the thud of the driver's Taoist Tech beats. The driver still has a limited say in the direction of the vehicle but primary control now rests with the computers of the central traffic control. The movement on the freeway, though, is not the steady calm grace of motorways back home, but an acceleration into speeds nearing 150 kph amid a chaos of shifting lanes and variable speeds. Lines marking the road's natural channels become mere indicators as 5 lanes of traffic shift in the space seemingly made for only four. The traffic constantly weaves in and out amongst each other with only inches to spare, determined by complex flocking algorithms that European and American governments would never have the courage to trust.

After a short ride they spiral back down to street level again, the adrenaline of the trip metallic in Sam's mouth, and the driver dumps him with a disinterested grunt of thanks onto the edge of the pedestrianised shopping area.

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