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#1 – The hotel in Hong Kong was not very far from our office; it was a little further from our office to the client office. We had agreed to meet our local colleagues at the client office, and, while it was walkable, taking a taxi seemed easier and less likely that we would get lost and arrive late. The bellman hailed a taxi; the two guys from Singapore got in; we gave the taxi driver the building name and off we went.

Hong Kong is different from Singapore. The streets are as at least as crowded, but the taxis are much more aggressive. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride came to mind. The drivers speak English – some – but maybe not as fluently or as comfortably as in Sing. A good rule is: get in, sit down, hold tight, and close your eyes. Flag down, HK$20 on the meter, and off we went. We were at the client office building within five minutes, maybe less. The driver was not particularly happy with such a short ride. The meter still read only $20 (under US$3). My colleague tried to pay, using a $100 bill. The driver was not happy. And expressed it. We found a $20 for him. Then we discovered that the sidewalk side door would not open. After a few tries, it still wouldn’t open, and the driver wanted us out of his cab. He expressed his displeasure loudly. Sitting on the street side, I opened my door a little to check for traffic. Very, very busy road. The driver expressed his unhappiness. I tried to close the door again. He expressed even louder unhappiness. It took us a while, but we finally escaped, and the driver roared off.

#2 – After lunch in the hotel complex, we had an afternoon client meeting in the same building. We took the same strategy of taxi to the meeting. Different cab, same wild ride, same short fare. My colleague (the other guy from Singapore) is a native Singaporean of Indian descent. That is to say, he’s obviously not a Westerner. This time it was my turn to pay the fare. The meter read $20, I did the quick mental calculation, hoping that I had the right conversion rate, to US$3, and gave the driver $30. Big percent tip, not so big in actual dollars. It only seemed fair for such a short trip. Handing him the money, I said “xie xie,” Mandarin for “thank you.” I wanted him to know that I knew the fare amount and did not expect any change in return. He said, “thank you” (English for “xie xie”), we got out of the cab, he drove off, and we went to our meeting. On the way upstairs, my colleage told me that I had fulfilled the standard Westerner role of spoiling the market by overtipping. Good to do what is expected of you.

#3 – When it was time to go home, we took a taxi from the hotel to Central, where we could catch the express train to the airport. The ride was a little longer than our morning rides, but the meter only got to $23. I think my colleague was still feeling the reverberation from our first ride of the day, so I had the responsibility of paying. We decided that we’d include all our pocket change as the tip, so we wouldn’t have to worry about the airport metal detectors. When we got to Central, I had a $20 bill and a handful of change amounting to about $8 or so. I gave it all to the driver who did a double take and wanted to make sure that I understood that the fare was (much) less. Knowing my role as a Westerner, I wanted to play it well. Spoil the market. With the appropriate body language – lots of smiles, head nodding, hand waving – I indicated that it was all for him and wished him “prosperous New Year” in somewhat fractured Mandarin. That broke the ice. He corrected both pronunciation and language. Cantonese is the usual Chinese in Hong Kong, so we spent a couple of minutes getting me straightened out on the Cantonese version. When I had it more or less straight – that is, pretty good for a Westerner, from his point of view – we both had a good laugh.

Gong xi fa cai to one and all!


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