Thursday, September 4, 2008

Lost in a taxi

There are different types of lost. Sometimes we don't know where we are. And other times we don't know where we are going. I think the worst type of lost is when we have no clue we are lost.

Last night we took a taxi to my older kids' school. It was a back-to-school night where we rush around and listen to all the teachers talk for ten minutes or so. In our case it meant three school schedules (3 kids on this campus) and two parents, so we planned to skip some classes. (Isn't this every kids dream--skip the classes they don't want to attend.)

How did we get lost? The school is in a new area of the city, 45 minutes away. (Guangzhou has about 8-9 million people, so it is a big city.) We drove with some other parents so we could split the fare.

They told the driver where to go--since they speak Chinese. We drove and drove. It is a long way and for a long time the route looked familiar, but then it didn't. The driver slowed down, rolled down his window and while driving at the pace of a bicyclist he asked where Science Park (the technology park where the school is at) is. We wandered more. He asked some people standing under an overpass. We started making phone calls. Of course he didn't have a map and the standard map doesn't go out this far. And we'd left the one decent map at home. He rolled down his window and talked to another driver while we waited at an intersection. We circled some more and he asked more people. The taxi driver was at least in the right section of town, but had no idea where he was or where to go. The 15th or maybe 20th person he asked (in another 30 minutes of driving) knew where Science Park is. We arrived 30 minutes late after 1 1/2 hours in the taxi. At least taxis are cheap here and he didn't charge the full fare which would have been about $20. It should have cost $10--if he'd driven there correctly.

The other couple we went with had arranged for a ride home earlier in the day, since taxi drivers tend to get lost and can't find the school. (This happened to me last time I was at the school. It took me 45 minutes to get a driver--the guards at the entrance called and it took them several calls to get a driver who knew where the school was.)

The funny thing--I wasn't stressed. Five years ago I would have been super stressed. I figured the worst thing would be missing the evening. (I am stressed about other things--like the MFA packet I'm sending to Margaret next week.)

I sometimes get lost when I write. It doesn't stress me like it used to. I know that sometimes a character needs to wander and find out where she is going. I'll revise out the wanderings later. Other times I don't know where I am in the story and that can mean stepping back and looking at the plot, getting to know my characters better and if I'm really lost, asking my writing friends for directions.

We need to be brave and explore our stories and our neighborhoods. And when we get lost--for we will get lost--remember that all will end well. After all, getting lost is part of living.


Susan Sandmore said...

You are brave! I had understood that this was standard in China--drive the foreigners around for ages to earn more money. I don't know where I read that--Alvina Ling or Grace Lin's blog? I think they took a trip and it happened to them . . . .

Sarah Blake Johnson said...

He wasn't lost on purpose. One of the passengers was fluent in Mandarin. This is a new section of town and most of the drivers have never been out there before. Our driver was stressed. He gave a huge discount on the fare, dropped it to close to the amount it should have been.

Susan Sandmore said...

I feel very stupid now, because I even looked on the blogs I mentioned and couldn't find any such post. Anyway, I'm glad your driver was so nice! :)

Sarah Blake Johnson said...

It does happen--taxi drivers taking the long route. My oldest had this happen when we lived in Brazil.

We've been warned that it can happen here. And it has (I think) happened to us once here so far. At least if I'd been driving I would have taken a shorter route!
(I'm starting to get to know part of the city.)

Mary Witzl said...

Sarah, first of all I am thrilled that you're on Blogspot; I used to get lost trying to find your last blog!

My first thought on reading this was similar to Susan's -- that your driver might have gotten lost accidentally on purpose. This happened to me in Hong Kong, and it was really irritating. But my husband lived in China (Wuhan and Beijing) and I remember him saying that the taxi drivers had a tough time finding places. And good for your driver for reducing your fare.

I love the analogy here. I should try to keep this in mind when I write. And if my new job doesn't work out, I can always get a job driving taxis in China. With my sense of direction, I'd be a shoo in.

Anonymous said...

This reminded me of The Amazing Race -- a number of countries are complicated enough that the local taxi drivers can't find places.

I'm glad you weren't stressed -- and very good analogy with writing!

I also loved your post about finding a piano. The pix are wonderful...I hope you get some beautiful music soon :)

Liz Jones said...

Wow-- so glad you're up to the challenge of this stuff! Sounds so confusing... I love hearing about all your adventures, and seeing the images!

Sarah Blake Johnson said...

Mary, good luck with your move. I hope you don't get lost too often in your new country.

Thanks, Liz. Glad you like the photos and the analogy.

And it is confusing. I always keep my diplomatic passport (that has my visa) with me (required) and keep a card with my address so I can (hopefully) always get home when I get lost. (Note I say when, not if.) And, yes. It is a challenge.

Robin, glad you like the analogy.
I'm headed back to the music store tomorrow morning. :)

It is more the size of a city that makes it hard for a taxi driver to find places. We had similar problems in Brazil (18 million in the city) so we'd always give a landmark and then give directions to our destination from the landmark--but we could speak Portuguese.
Yet some cities--like here and Brazil there are a lot of winding roads, one-way roads and it is not easy to get from here to there.

Melinda said...

Sarah! I found you. I lost the email that had your address and then had LJ problems. Good analogy, I think if we stress, it really messes up the writing process. I tend to freeze if I let a character stress me out.

Also, good luck with your next packet. I think you are amazing!

Anonymous said...

Sarah, I'm with everyone else in admiring your bravery! You are amazing.

And, of course, good analogy. I need to make a mantra out of this with my own writing, too:

It's okay to be lost . . . It's okay to be lost . . . It's okay

Sarah Blake Johnson said...

Thanks, Debi and Melinda.

I really don't like being lost! But I'm getting used to it.
If I could read the signs or even look up words in a dictionary, it would be a little less disconcerting.

To not be able to read--and feel like I have no hope of every being able to read--is a very, very tough situation to be in.