老司机 Old taxi drivers


The other day I took a cab and, as usual, the driver started making small talk. "Where are you from? How long have you been in China?" His pack of Double Happiness smokes placed within reach of the steering wheel, a ruddy bottle of home-brewed tea reclining on the center console near the stick shift. Driving on by the continuous construction site on Kehua south road, past people panting on their Mobikes sweating through shirts in eighty degrees plus heat, I chimed in half-heartedly and was too self-absorbed to put any real effort into the conversation. Before stepping out, his last remark was 'You look young! Get yourself a Chinese wife and settle down somewhere. It doesn't matter where you land, just find yourself someone sexy that can stand being around you for more than a minute and everything else will be ok.'

If you're not in a major city like Beijing or Shanghai, hopping in a cab is relatively cheap; costing the equivalent of three or four dollars to get half-way across the city. Taxi drivers in China, especially Sichuan, act as mobile psychiatrists and always seem to offer up nuggets of hard-earned wisdom at some point during the ride. They are referred to as Lao Siji (老司机) and If someone happens to call you a Lao Siji, they are hinting that you know too much for your own good or you know how to flirt. 我被老司机带坏了

Though I've lived almost five years in Chengdu, I can hardly say I know the city well. With China's current growth rate, every district is expanding and changing its skin like a molting snake, its scales being hauled off at midnight by vast lines of dump trucks receding into the hazy grey distance while dancing to the clack of mahjong tiles. It seems that every two months I can't even recognize the landscape out of my front door. The slogans say 'Modern buildings for modern people.' I suppose as a street photographer, this is exactly what I want: a new palate to work with, a fresh scene, something electric. Although the best about Chengdu is that no matter how fast it tries to reinvent itself, It never really changes, the oil is still there under the new shiny dirt.