“Thank you! And thank God!” said the taxi driver as we climbed into his cab parked on the roadside. We were in Hong Kong for the weekend, and we were surrounded by high-rises in every direction, cars sharing the road with quaint double-decker trams covered incongruously with modern retail advertising, and glitzy bars packed side by side with traditional shops. A warm scent of food and herbs swirled between bamboo scaffolding that held up the skyscrapers.
As he tossed his empty can of coffee into the glove compartment and turned on the engine, the driver explained to us that he had just finished eating his lunch and that business had been slow, everyone having spent their money over the Halloween weekend.
“Oh I see!” we said. We were just relieved that after weeks of struggling with Beijing taxi drivers, first to get them to stop and second to communicate our destination, here was an English-speaking cabbie who, with his gangly, caffeinated limbs, was rustling about in his seat like an excited insect.
We cruised under the web of raised walkways, which we’d found out the day before are a good way to walk to the bay as long as you know exactly which unmarked exit in which anonymous shopping mall you should use to get down to ground level, otherwise you’re suspended in a maze staring wistfully in the direction you want to go while the walkway takes you the exact opposite way.
After a few exchanges about the weather and how we weren’t living in Hong Kong, just visiting, there was a pause.
“My English is not very good,” said our cabbie apologetically.
“Oh no it’s great!” we said, and he looked pleased.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“Britain… England,” DD said, with an instinctive hint of modesty in his voice that acknowledged Hong Kong’s colonial history.
But on hearing this, our driver was delighted.
“England!” he almost shouted, smiling furiously. “I love England! And English people! They are great!”
“Wow, really?” we said.
“Yes! Very polite! Good management! Good management!”
I recalled Britain’s trains, and repeated, “Really?” DD was laughing a faint, embarrassed, confused laugh.
But our driver’s raptures would not be suppressed. Later we would wonder whether he’d meant to say “manners” not “management”. But we would also later learn from DD’s Hong Kong-resident friend that the locals do tend to see their erstwhile colonial rulers in a favourable light, and save their disdain for the mainland Chinese, who arrive in droves every day to shop and probably remind them of Hong Kong’s precarious quasi-democratic status and the day in 2047 when China’s promise to keep the region autonomous will expire.
Our driver was also disapproving of the Chinese. I asked the question with the obvious answer, whether he was from Hong Kong.
“Everything Hong Kong!” he shouted proudly. “Anything Hong Kong, call me call me!” He sang this last part to a poppy tune with his hand shaped like a phone.
“What do you do?” he asked.
“Er, I work in Beijing,” said DD, somewhat apologetically.
“Oh!” our cabbie said. He slowed down at a corner, letting a man with a cart cross in front of him, only to thank the cart man by raising his hand until we completely passed him.
As we approached the dim sum restaurant we wanted to go to, he looked in the rear-view mirror at DD and giggled happily, and I caught the words “face”, “spy” and “USSR”.
He stopped the car, and we got out repeating our thanks.
“I’ll miss you!” he suddenly yelled out, as DD shut the door.
“I’ll miss you!” DD blurted back.
As we walked into the restaurant, I asked, “What was all that spy thing about?”
“I think he was trying to say I looked like one of the Cambridge Five,” DD said, referring to the infamous spy ring of Cambridge graduates who were recruited by the Soviet Union during the Second World War.
“By the way, I loved that you shouted back ‘I’ll miss you!'” I said.
“Yeah,” DD said, “I don’t know why I did that.” And he looked embarrassed and confused again.
Copyright © 2013 followingdrdippy