Suzhou China’s Best Taxi Driver
Don’t take the title too seriously. I’m sure there are better taxi drivers somewhere in Suzhou, or at least somewhere in China, but Mr. Zhang (å¼ æ ¹ç”Ÿ) was the best I have yet to run into. Everything from his attitude toward life and being a taxi driver to his safe driving style made me feel at ease.
I happily face my job
Born in 1968, Mr. Zhang, like most Chinese people, used to belong to a å•ä½, the work unit that shaped your life in pre-capitalist China. He has already been a driver for 20 years, but it is only recently that he was able to break off and work mostly for himself. And according to Mr. Zhang, it’s a fantastic job – he loves it passionately. Why does he say so?
He feels that he can help others by driving safely and presenting a friendly attitude, making some friends along the way. Also, he enjoys the opportunity to introduce people to the sights and sounds of Suzhou.
Without this job, Mr. Zhang claims he might still be unemployed. Instead, he has had a chance to increase his income dramatically. Before he took this job he was making a good bit less than 1000 RMB per month. When he started three years ago, he was clearing about 1500 RMB per month, but since then it has increased almost three times, to 4-5K RMB per month.
With a mostly stable and relatively high income, Mr. Zhang doesn’t have to worry about money as much as many of his friends or family. And it allows him to focus on the more important source of wealth: one’s health. He believes that this job helps keep him balanced, and healthy. In fact, he believes it is the very stresses of the job that help him maintain a more balanced state of mind.
China’s service industry – growing up
Mr. Zhang believes that China’s service industry is a mighty one – he repeatedly emphasized this point. He hoped that someday China’s service industry could even surpass that of developed countries – and was clearly aware that he had a direct (though small) influence on this process. How so, exactly?
Mr. Zhang said his taxi represents China’s national spirit. Perhaps this is a bit of an exaggeration, but perhaps not. I know that many taxi drivers in China have left me with a very bad taste in my mouth after narrowly escaping death time after time – this made the good taxi drivers I ran into even better to someone starved for a safe, steady ride. I bet you know exactly what I mean if you have lived in China.
And while the service industry in China is still quite small (third behind manufacturing and agriculture), Mr. Zhang believed it would continue to grow more quickly than any other industry in China.
An honor to meet people like you (foreigners)
Mr. Zhang, the consummate salesman, also repeatedly emphasized that it was his honor and joy to be in a job that he could meet people like myself. While undeserved, this kind of attitude makes you feel very welcome and undoubtedly brings at least a little repeat business to Mr. Zhang. He gave me his number for the next time I am in Suzhou, and I will call him next time I come down (if you want his number, please use the contact form to ask me – I’d rather not put his number for anyone to see).
Although Mr. Zhang’s English is extremely limited, he felt confident he could use even the few phrases he knew to communicate his friendliness to others. And I believe him.
He treats his job as a sales job, and said that this is necessary for his profession. Mr. Zhang believes that as a taxi driver, he must understand and forgive his customer’s shortcomings, saying that even if the customer is wrong, he treats them as if they were right. Enduring pointless complaints requires a balanced attitude, and this is something Mr. Zhang seems to have in spades.
å¤§ä¼—å‡ºç§Ÿ Coming to Suzhou
Three years ago, Mr. Zhang was very happy to find out that Volkswagen Taxi was coming to Suzhou. It was a taxi company with a brand others could trust, and the requirements for drivers are quite high, according to Mr. Zhang.
As mentioned above, without this job, Mr. Zhang feels he might still be unemployed. And before Volkswagen Taxi came to Suzhou, most drivers had to buy their own cars – an unacceptable risk for people like Mr. Zhang.
Very moved and glad for the opportunity given to him, Mr. Zhang believes that by first protecting the interests of the company – upholding their image – he can protect his own interests.
Details of the job
So how does working as a taxi driver for a big company in China work? Fortunately, they provide a basic retirement plan, health insurance, unemployment insurance, and accident insurance (as long as you are found not to be at fault). Beyond that, though, it is exactly like having your own little franchise.
Every day that Mr. Zhang drives the company car (and he shares it in day long / 18 hour shifts with one other person), he must pay å¤§ä¼—å‡ºç§Ÿ 600 RMB. That fee includes all gas Mr. Zhang puts in his car, repairs, insurance, and any other costs. Any revenue beyond that is pure profit.
There is a possibility that a taxi driver like Mr. Zhang in China could lose money from driving – but there is also a decent upside. At the very least, it allows Mr. Zhang to lead a much more comfortable life than the average Chinese person.
But he has to be careful. One too many accidents would likely get him fired, and one at high speed would of course put his life in danger. It’s a risky job, and one I know I could not handle.
But Mr. Zhang can and does.