Welcome to take Beijing taxi.

That’s what the automated voice says when the taxi meter is switched on.  It gets a smile out of me every time.

I’d heard that Beijing worked very hard to teach its cab drivers some English phrases ahead of the Olympic Games.  My cab driver this afternoon – an older man, and by far the sweetest and friendliest cabbie I’ve met here – was a perfect product of that eduational effort.  He tried so hard, checking his sheet of English phrases and then trying them out.

Welcome to Beijing!

Thank you.

Do you speak Chinese?

Very, very little.

Where are you from?

Near New York.  (Gotta give them something they’ve heard of…)

Your English is very good.

I would hope so!  (No, I didn’t say that out loud.  I liked this guy, remember?)

Then he said something I didn’t understand, not at all.  I think one word was “street,” but I really have no idea.  But he kept saying it, so I said “Yes.”  He continued to say it over and over to himself, like an incantation.  Then he asked, “Go straight?”  Yes.  And then, “Turn left?”  I pointed where.  I complimented his English.  He continued to say “Turn left” quietly to himself, trying to get used to the words on his tongue.

It was completely endearing.  What a sweet, gentle person.

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