I forced myself to keep my eyes closed. If I looked, it would be too scary, kind of like riding in the front car of the roller coaster at Magic Mountain. Better to keep my eyes screwed shut, experience the ride with my other senses, and then open them only when I knew I was stationary again. However, I wasn’t at an amusement park. I was in the front seat, passenger side, of a taxi in Nanchang, China.
Most drivers in China are fairly new drivers. The car culture has taken off there only in the past ten years. Some new drivers buy taxis and go into business for themselves. I didn’t know how long this taxi driver had been driving, but he drove like it was a contact sport.
He would pass on the right. He would go between two lanes of traffic, squeezing his car in the slot, so close that I could stick my arm out the window and shake hands with the neighboring driver. He constantly tailgated the car in front of him, slamming his brakes as necessary. Traffic lights and signs were merely suggestions.
We were staying near the city center of Nanchang at the Galactic Peace International Hotel. It was the newest hotel in the city of 5 million people. But the reason I chose that hotel was because of the name. Galactic Peace! Yes, I am for it. I want peace in the galaxies. The Emperor hatching the crazy plot with the Trade Federation to wipe out the Naboo, the clone army, figuring out who is the Padwan learner to whom, I am just tired of it. Let’s all have Galactic Peace.
The Galactic Peace International Hotel was on north side of a divided three lane highway about two miles east of the main square of Nanchang. To go the main square to shop (we just had to see the giant new Walmart!), we’d catch a taxi at the hotel entrance and take a right. No problem. When we were done shopping, eating, and sight-seeing, we would catch another taxi and come back. We had a business card with the name of the hotel, address, and a map to the hotel. Because we didn’t speak Mandarin, we would give this to the driver so he would know where to take us.
I knew we were getting close to the hotel. We had been in the taxi a few minutes already. I sneaked a peak with one eye. I could see it up ahead, since it was the tallest building on the left side of the road.
At that moment the taxi suddenly lurched to the left in a tire skidding 90 degree turn. My body was flung to the door panel on my right. Immediately the driver spun the wheel the other way and we flipped 90 degrees to the right. My eyes were wide open now. We had crossed through a gap in the median of the highway and were now going the wrong way down the highway!
I could see the hotel entrance about 200 yards ahead on the left. I could also see a line of traffic coming straight at us about 300 yards ahead.
The driver punched the accelerator and veered from right to left as he crossed the three lanes going 60 mph. The oncoming traffic was rapidly approaching, with horns blaring from every car. Just as the lead oncoming car got within 30 yards of us, we reached the hotel entrance. The driver braked hard and cranked the wheel. We skidded left into the hotel parking lot as the traffic rushed past.
The driver was as calm as a cucumber. His face revealed nothing. I paid him and we got out of the taxi.
The hotel concierge happened to be standing outside having a smoke. He spoke a little English. I asked him if he had seen what had just happened. He smiled and explained that the legal and safe way to get to the hotel from the city center was to go past the hotel for several miles on the highway and make several turns in order to get back on the highway going the right direction in front of the hotel. That takes too long, so taxi drivers take the short cut.
We made that drive five times during our short stay in Nanchang. We had different taxi drivers every time. There wasn’t always approaching traffic. But every time I closed my eyes.