When traveling in China’s megacities, one thing should be kept in mind: the taxi drivers are not out to get you, nor are they ignoring you because you are a foreigner, nor are they refusing to take you where you want to go because of some racist or other belief. The fact is, unless you are going to a destination close by or to a very famous landmark in the city – they may simply have no idea where they are supposed to take you.
I found in my travels that even having an address card – or an address such as written on someone’s business card – was often woefully insufficient. Street numbers are often hidden or poorly labeled. Hence, going to #155 Zhongshan Road in a city of 15 million people is going to pose a challenge. Where the address includes the name of the building or complex in question, it might help – and often does in Beijing.
But there is a way to make sure you never get lost and never get taken to the wrong address (happened to me before when my slurred and badly accented Chinese sent the driver, affable though he was, on a wild goose chase through back streets in Shenzhen’s Nanshan district trying to find what he thought was my hotel. It wasn’t. We had to backtrack). Get the nearest intersection to your destination. Knowing the streets which intersect closest to where you are going will 9 times out of 10 be enough to get where you are going with a minimum of fuss. Hence, when you get address cards from your hotel or business partners, ask them to write the nearest intersection or other pertinent information which would help a clueless taxi driver find it.
There is one very important exception: Shanghai Pudong. The east bank of the Huangpu River and its hinterland are still a mystery to most west bank (Puxi) taxi drivers. For one thing they are loathe to battle the bridge and tunnel traffic to get to the other side. For another, they really will know almost no-where on the other side, with the possible exception of addresses in Lujiazui (close to the Oriental Pearl Tower, the World Trade Center and the Jin Mao Building) or the airport. If you are trying to get to your friend’s apartment in an industrial district in central Pudong, forget it. Cross the river on a subway, then hail a taxi and use your address card – with the nearest intersection of course!
PS: Having a mobile phone helps too….