Getting Around Beijing: Key Phrases When Speaking with a Beijing Taxi Driver
Most people have heard that the traffic in Beijing can be a little insane. It’s true. It is. But one of the many perks of living in a city like Beijing is that there are tons of options for getting around that are fast, cheap, comfortable and convenient! As you settle in the city, you will learn how to navigate the traffic, when to avoid it and which mode of transportation is most effective for you.
One thing you should note is that Beijing is flat – like a pancake! Getting yourself around on a bicycle is easy and often one of the most convenient ways to do it. If you don’t want to purchase your own bike, China now has many bike sharing apps where with a quick scan of a QR code you can be cruising the streets for less than .15 cents USD/hour. Pretty great, right?!
There are also Tuk-Tuks (3-wheel off-meter taxis), an extensive and easy-to-navigate subway system, busses, and of course taxis.
Taxis are obviously great for the convenience of door-to-door service, but can be intimidating for a brand new expat. If that sounds like you, don’t sweat it. If you don’t speak any Chinese it would be wise to have your destination written out in characters for the driver, a quick screenshot of the address will do the trick! Also, knowing a few key phrases should keep you well-prepared and on your way to your destination.
Top phrases that new expat families should learn
Here are a few of the top phrases that new families at the International School of Beijing thought every expat should learn:
When you first hop in the car, you will most likely hear qù nǎr (chu naR) - 去哪儿 - Where are you going? With a heavy emphasis on the R sound because the Beijing dialect throws a pirate-y R at the end of many words.
You can then respond with:
Wǒ qù… (wo chu) - 我去… - I am going… For example: Wǒ qù Sānlĭtún - 我去三里屯 -
I am going to Sanlitun. (a popular neighborhood in Beijing among foreigners for shopping, dining and entertainment)
This one is simple, easy to remember and straight to the point. Official taxi drivers in Beijing know the city well and they all have GPS, so if you use “Wǒ qù” and point to the name of the place that you are going, you should be on your way!
Telling your driver which directions to take
Other great phrases to have in your back pocket are directions. Once you are familiar with the city you may know a better route than the one GPS is providing for your driver. Knowing how to say turn left, turn right, turn around (U-Turn) and go straight will come in handy.
Turn left - Zuǒ guǎi (Zwo Gw-eye) - 左拐
Turn right - Yòu guǎi (Yo Gw-eye) - 右拐
Turn around - Diào tóu (D-yow tow) - 掉头 (this one literally means turn your head)
Go straight - Yīzhí zǒu (Ee – Jer – Zo) - 一直走
Upon arrival you can simply say Tíng (ting) -停 - Stop or Wǒ xià chē (wo sh-ya che) - 我下车 - Let me off.
Other phrases to know when speaking to a cab driver in Beijing
During the ride the driver will often ask you a lot of questions: Where are you from? How long you have been in Beijing? Why are you here? If you don’t understand what they are saying you can politely reply with Wǒ tīng bù dǒng 我听不懂 - I don’t understand.
With smartphones and GPS these days you don’t need a lot of Chinese to get around the city, but jumping in a taxi and speaking even a little bit of Chinese is a great way to put the driver and yourself at ease. He’ll understand where you want to go and it’s a fantastic way to practice your Mandarin skills!
Download your free copy of the official ISB Beijing City Guide below to learn more phrases and other skills that make your transition into living in Beijing easier.
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