Mr. Yang called to confirm my time to leave for Baiyun International Airport in north Guangzhou right after I booked his car via DD car service, Uber’s rival in China. He spoke Cantonese and sounded warm and professional, “I will arrive ten minutes before 8:40 tomorrow (Sunday, May 15, the time I needed his car service).” The next day, at 8:25, he called again, “I have arrived. But no hurry, take your time. Just give me a ring when you are ready.”
I was impressed. I mean, I don’t often meet drivers as professional and considerate as Mr. Yang. I took the front passenger seat instead of sitting at the back. As a result, during the 90-minute journey to the airport, I got to hear a streetwise man’s strong opinions on all kinds of things happening in China and a shocking incident that happened to him and his wife.
“Oh, those ‘black ghosts’ (African migrants) in Guangzhou! They are the worst. Bastards! They don’t pay for Taxi service! I’ve met many of them.” Mr. Yang started rapping and gabbing when I asked him about his job as a driver, “those ‘black ghosts’ are violent and dumb. I tell you, their IQ is very low! And those Chinese women who marry the ‘black ghosts!’ They are…they are…What can I say about them! If my daughter dares to marry a ‘black ghost,’ she is not my daughter! Can’t call me dad!’
“But Obama, the US president, is a black man,” I reminded him.
“Obama is different. He is American. The black people in America have lived in a civilized society for hundreds of years. They are better educated. Brainwashed by the whites. But those African ‘black ghosts’ are dumb barbarians.”
“Would you allow your daughter to marry an American black man then?”
“I wouldn’t let my daughter go abroad.”
“Women shouldn’t go that far. Women are women. Men are different. I would let my son study abroad, though.”
“Oh, you have a son, too! How come you have two children?” I was surprised, as from his accent, I could tell he was a Cantonese native and city residents his age (mid forties) were not allowed to have two children due to China’s one-child policy that began in 1979 and was only canceled in October, 2015. Certainly some families would pay a heavy fine for a second, even a third child, but a driver like him wouldn’t be able to afford it.
“Fake divorce,” he chuckled.
“My wife got pregnant by accident. What can I do? I can’t lose my permanent job with a state company. I only make 3000 RMB per month from this job, but I will have pension and other benefits from the government when I retire. It is an easy job, too. I get off work at three in the afternoon and can drive part time for DD after that on week days and whole day on weekends. I can’t afford the fine – 200,000 RMB per person! For a couple, that would be 400,000 RMB!”
“You wife works for the same company?”
“No. But all women employees and wives of the men employees have to go to a pregnancy check every three months.”
“Oh, they would have certainly found out her pregnancy.”
“So we got divorced.”
“But she still couldn’t get a pregnancy certificate as a divorced woman.”
“I married her to someone in Henan Province (a province south of Beijing and Hebei Province). Each new couple can get a pregnancy certificate after marriage, you know.”
“You married your pregnant wife to a Henan man, a stranger?!” I couldn’t hide my shocked tone.
“It is not for real. I mean the papers for our divorce and her marriage to the Henan man are all real, but we still live together as a couple.”
“But how did you manage to marry your wife to someone in Henan?”
“I have a colleague from Henan. He introduced us to one of his fellow villagers.”
“Do you have to pay the man?”
“Of course. Altogether we spent 60,000 RMB, 20,000 RMB pre-payment to the fake groom when we were introduced to him, 20,000 RMB after we get the pregnancy certificate, plus 20,000 RMB travel expenses between Guangzhou and Henan. It is a lot of money, but nothing compared to the 400,000 RMB fine – plus I would have been fired.”
“Reasonable,” I said.
“But I think my colleague, not the fake groom, got most of the money I paid, because he bought an Isuzu soon after we paid off for the pregnancy certificate.”
“Oh, well, this is China,” I said, not surprised, “but you get what you want.”
“No easy, though. They put the wrong time in the pregnancy certificate. My wife and I filed a divorce in 2014, but the date in the pregnancy certificate was 2013!”
“Your wife got pregnant in 2014! Bad timing, a year before the one-child policy was canceled! How unlucky!” I felt really sorry for him.
“Yep, bad luck. My son still hasn’t been registered as a legal citizen.”
“What do you do then?”
“We are waiting for them to correct the mistake in the pregnancy certificate.”
“So your wife is till married to the Henan man?”
“No. They filed a divorce a year later.”
“Are you remarried to your wife?”
“No. Even though the one-child policy has been canceled, my wife got pregnant before that. We could still be fined and I could still be fired if they find out. We can’t remarry now. Too risky.”
“Doesn’t your wife worry a little? I mean, middle aged women in China often worry their husbands would desert them for younger women…I read about couples filing divorces so they could buy more apartments than allowed, and many ended up being divorced for real.”
“When we filed the divorce, I put everything, our apartment and savings, under her name. I only own this car I am driving because I need it to make a living. And we have always lived under the same roof. Not much difference, really.”
“So you keep your job and you have a son.”
“Can’t complain. I am a happy man.”
“What about your daughter? Is she happy about having a younger brother? I read that a lot of kids loathe their parents getting a second child after the one-child policy was canceled last year. Earlier this year, a young boy forced his mother to do an abortion because he said his parents would love him less if he were to have a younger sibling.”
“My daughter (14 years old) was not too happy about the pregnancy at first because one of her classmates lost her parents’ favor after her brother was born. I heard this classmate of hers was sometimes abused by her parents after her brother was born. So my daughter was really upset at first. But we care about how she feels. We always satisfy her needs before her brother’s. She is now happy to have a brother.” Mr. Yang chuckled.
“So as long as she is not to marry a black man, you love her,” I said jokingly.
“Of course I love her. I teach her a lot of tricks to protect herself in case she is attacked by a man. Things like, if a man holds her from the front, I tell her to pretend to be frightened, and when the attacker is not too alert, step on his toe real hard, or hit his dick with the knee – that hurt like hell, he would automatically let go, then she could run away quickly. Or if someone tries to kidnap her on the street, I tell her to turn to any adult man on the street and call him dad. The kidnapper would usually panic and let go of her. Things like that, you know.” He laughed, “I was very naughty when I was young and I only had elementary school education. But I can teach my daughter all the tricks against the bad things I used to do, ha!”
I laughed with him and turned to look at him. He was of medium height and weight, had dark brown skin and was gentle as a driver. His laughter was cheery and his baritone Cantonese sounded warm and sincere. I didn’t feel nervous or worried even though he said he used to do bad things as a teenager. He continued to tell me his life stories – his mother left his father to marry a Hong Kong man in the 1980s, resulting in his becoming a bad student; he stole his neighbor’s potted plants and gave them to his teacher as gifts so that this teacher never punished him for his bad grades; he desired to join the army to fight the Vietnamese because he loved China, but couldn’t because he didn’t have a high school diploma; he lamented the fact that his half sister in Hong Kong was too well educated to marry early and he didn’t like her Singapore boyfriend who never bought her anything, “how can you trust a man like this? Go Dutch? Bullshit! A man should pay for his woman because once they get married, the woman belongs to him!”
When we arrived at the airport, he unloaded my suitcase the way a New York cab driver would do and wished me a safe trip. Professional. And I must say he is the most sincere taxi driver I’ve met in China since I moved back in 2011. Despite his sexism and his racism, I rated him a five-star when I paid the fee via my DD app.