Let us begin with the morning. Since the groom was set to arrive at the bride’s room in the Jinling Hotel, Nanjing, around 8.30 am, our bridesmaid duties called for an arrival at 6.30 am. This meant getting up at 5.30 am. If you know me at all, you realise that 5.30 am in my books is generally not a time I like to be awake, unless I am returning home from a wild night out. Well, now I am slowly getting to an age where even that is not a fun prospect anymore. So, yes, getting up this early, all I wanted to do was stuff the worms down that impudent early bird’s throat and crawl back into my toasty bed. But for my friends I will do almost anything (unless illegal, of course, cough cough); even get up at such an ungodly hour.
Naturally, catching a taxi this early is a feat in itself and so, with my thousand bags and loose approximation of a hairdo, I stood at a deserted crossing trying to catch my ride to the hotel.
If you have spent some time in China recently, you will know about Didi Dache (滴滴打车). This is one of a number of APPs, which have revolutionized or ruined the taxi transport industry, depending on your personal point of view. The idea is simple; passengers send out a message where they are and where they are going to all the vehicles using the app, and the taxi driver who would like to take the job accepts the request via the software. After a few months of getting everyone excited about this magical tool, the announcement was made that a cooperation between Tencent and the producers had been struck; from then on it was possible to pay via the WeChat online payment software. Now you could order and pay for your taxi all with merely your phone.
Great, right? Wrong! This software has completely spoilt the Chinese taxi market. In order to promote use of said app, the developers reward taxi drivers by giving them money. Passengers were also rewarded with virtual money initially, until they became dependent enough on it, which was when they were cut off. Now, everytime one uses the taxi app and then pays with the WeChat app, a taxi money lottery begins, one’s switched on friends can, by clicking a link on an automatic post made to WeChat’s “Moments” (read wall), grab some credit for future taxi rides. What the app has done though, is it has given China’s taxi drivers, most of which are already infamous for their attitude and unwillingness to do their job, an unrivalled amount of power.
Nowadays, oftentimes passenger-less cars will pass you by because someone pre-booked via the app. It is now becoming increasingly difficult for non-app users to hail taxis. In addition, there is a function that one can add extra money to the bill (between ￥5 and ￥20) as an incentive to taxi drivers to prioritize the request; especially during rush hour no cabbie will accept any calls unless you are willing to pay extra, thereby increasing the taxi prices. And finally, drivers will get incredibly irate if you use the app to call them but then want to pay cash and not via the online payment method WeChat. I got shouted at repeatedly and one cheeky driver actually demanded I pay him the ￥5 he would have owned otherwise (although now I know that if you simply do not cancel the order, the cabbies will get their money anyway). This has led to my developing a strong aversion to Didi Dache, and I originally deleted it from my phone.
However, on this occasion I thought, probably better to use the app, so that I would quickly get a car. And yes, it worked, my request was immediately accepted. I called the driver to confirm, and he said he would be round in a second. Elated, I waited, and waited, and waited. The great and terrible thing about the app is that you can see where the car is; in my case it was standing firmly still, parked in a side street, not moving an inch. Ten minutes and three desperate phone calls later, with the driver promising each time he would be right there, and then probably continuing to smoke his cigarette and drink his morning tea, while lounging in his reclined car seat, I had had enough. It was 6.15 and the taxi ride to the hotel was exactly 15 minutes; I had left in good time, and due to the lazy cab driver I was now cutting it very close. This was when a taxi came to my rescue the traditional way; I jumped in, instructed the driver on where I was going and promptly deleted the blasted software from my phone for good.
Pulling into the hotel at 6.33 am, with my knowledge of the common Chinese interpretation of punctuality, I hoped I would not be the last to arrive. However, I was not that lucky (partly because most of them stayed in the hotel, anyway). In dear Cherry’s luxurious hotel room, preparation was already running at full speed. Two of the bridesmaids had already done their make-up (I believe that they were the more experienced ones, whereas myself and number four were bridesmaidal amateurs and had come fully unprepared).