Taxi drivers often have their finger on the pulse.
Around 6pm last night, I was on the roadside waiting to hail a cab. From 5.30pm onwards, its often hard to find a cab as its change-of-shift time. Day drivers knock off, handing over car and keys to the night drivers.
Luckily, I didn’t have to wait too long last night – a cab slowed down, and as it was a woman driver, I got in the front. We started chatting.
“Are you about to finish your shift for the day, or have you just started?” I asked her.
“I started work at 7.30 this morning,” she answered, “and I won’t knock off till around 11pm.”
“11pm! At night!!! That’s such a long day! You must be exhausted!”
“It’s okay. Next year I can retire.”
“Really? How old are you?” She didnt look that old, and in Chinese culture, its perfectly okay to ask a woman of a certain age how old she is.
“I’ll be fifty next year. At fifty, I can retire. 谢谢毛泽东”. Thankyou, Mao Zidong.
“Not the same for my little sister, though,” the cabbie continued. “She will get a pension based on how long she has worked for.”
“Oh? Like the American system, a kind of work-insurance pension – in Australia everyone gets the old age pension, regardless.”
“Yes – Australia has a good welfare system.” Not for the first time, I was amazed about Chinese cabbies knowledge of Australia.
“Health care is no good here though,” she said, turning into Modern Avenue. ( Yep, thats the street’s name.现代大道. ”
Don’t I know it. We swapped scary hospital stories for a while – patient’s families needing to pay the bill before treatment.
“We all get many illnesses when we get old. My little sister’s mother in law recently had to spend 100,000 renminbi on medicines for cancer. I have to save now. I have to save for my son also.”
“How old is your son? Why do you have to save money for him? Is he working now?”
“He works in construction. However to get a wife, he needs to have a house. Chinese girls are so picky these days.”
“You’re right!” I retorted. “There is such an imbalance of male – female. Young girls can pick and chose, and they are all so materialistic these days. They won’t marry a boy unless he has a house already, and a car.”
“I’ve bought my son a house over there -” she pointed to a tall apartment block we were driving past. “But I have to work long hours to help him pay for it, and to save for my old age.”
We reached my apartment complex, and made our goodbyes.
How lucky I was to be going home to see my daughter at 6pm.