Taxi in a Beijing haystack

Mere hours into my trip to Beijing, I had the single most-terrifying moment I have ever had as a traveler.

Before I left, I had wisely taken a few screen shots of maps that included the general vicinity of my hostel. The plan was to take the subway from the airport into the city, get to the nearest stop, and then follow the path of my rudimentary map on foot.

The trouble started when I exited the subway at a different station entirely than the one I wanted. It took me at least a half hour of wandering around to arrive at that conclusion.

Learning from last time, I had copied the name of my hostel in Chinese letters and printed it out with the phone number, should I end up having to take a taxi for some reason. But even now, showing the taxi driver the piece of paper that I had so painstakingly prepared, he still had no clue where to go. I pointed to the telephone number and suggested he give them a call.

He was satisfied with their directions, so I threw my suitcase in the trunk and we were on our way.

He turned down an alley, which fit the description provided by the hostel, but I was not seeing the usual signs (and English lettering) of an international youth hostel. Puzzled, but happy to have made progress, I was ready to get out and explore on foot.

We had a brief dispute over the fare – I handed him what I thought was 15 yuan to cover the 13 yuan fare, but in fact my second bill (labeled with a 5) was a fifty-cent note, meaning I was handing him 10.50 instead of 15. My fault entirely, but it left me a little distracted, and I was still unsure of where he was dropping me off to begin with.

I stepped out of the taxi and looked around for anything that looked like a hostel.

The driver drove off, and I walked down the alley toward a landmark that I thought I recognized from the map. As I walked I took inventory: phone in one pocket, passport in the other, wallet in the back, backpack in tow… yet I still felt lighter than I should.

My suitcase. It was still in the taxi. One taxi in a city of thousands and thousands of taxis. And he was nowhere to be seen.

Panic did not set in. Instead, a slight, delirious grin crept across my face.

You’ve outdone yourself.

I’ve left my passport on a table at an airport restaurant, put a serious dent in a rental car that was not overlooked by the rental company, even missed an international flight sitting two gates away killing time on my laptop. But this…

I went through the items in my suitcase. My clothes, of course, but also gifts for people I was visiting on the trip. Guidebooks. My favorite hat. Malaria tablets – by prescription only – for my forays into South East Asia. My toothbrush!

It could be a while before the driver noticed, and if he did – what was he going to do? He wasn’t able to find the hostel either, he just dumped me in the general area.

I quickly pulled out my phone and dialed the hostel, international roaming be damned.

A woman answered.

“Is this the Happy Dragon Hostel?”

It was.

“I just had a taxi driver call a few minutes ago and ask for directions. I left my suitcase in his taxi. Can you call him back immediately and tell him to come back to where he dropped me off?”

She consulted her colleague in the background.

“Yes, we’ll try.”

I called her back a few minutes later. They had reached the driver and he was on his way.

This occurred over the course of five minutes, so the true loss I was facing hadn’t really set in. The driver and I laughed it off when he got there, and he got on the horn one more time with the hostel to ask where they were. Just around the corner, as it turned out.

I checked in and closed the door to my room. Only when I had the suitcase open on the floor – my entire life for three weeks – did the gravity set in. I counted my blessings that’s there would be no shopping spree for a new Chinese wardrobe, no new set of phone charging cables, and no need to find black market malaria pills.

Does anyone know who I can call about getting idiot insurance?


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