Chinese Language Blog

Chinese Taxi Cab Confessionals Posted by on Jan 26, 2015 in Uncategorized

When people ask me where and how I learned to speak Chinese, I often reply by saying, “In Beijing taxis” (在北京出租车里面 – zài běi jīng chū zū chē lǐ miàn). Although I say it jokingly and it’s usually followed by laughter from the Chinese person, I’m actually quite serious. When I first started taking Chinese lessons in my spare time, I had a pretty busy schedule: class for two hours, an afternoon workout, and then a full day of teaching. Other than my Chinese lesson in the morning and ordering lunch, that left me with little time to actually practice. As an English teacher in a Korean school with American roommates, there weren’t exactly a lot of opportunities to speak Chinese. This may seem strange as I was living in China, but it’s the truth.

Image by Michael Coghlan from

Image by Michael Coghlan from

Thanks to my late work schedule, public transportation was all shut down by the time I got off for the day. As a result, my school had to pay for my taxi rides home, which was of course fine with me. It was in these long rides across Beijing that I finally began to put my mediocre Chinese skills to use. Over the next few months, I went from struggling to have my driver understand where I wanted to go, to having full on conversations that lasted the duration of the ride. I came to quite enjoy chatting with cabbies in Beijing, as they’re usually quite talkative and especially curious to converse with a foreigner.

Throughout the years, I’ve had some of the best conversations with taxi drivers all around China. Sure, come cabbies can be a bit pushy and in your face – especially outside of train stations and tourist attractions – but most of them are genuinely nice guys who appreciate good conversation. After all, if you had to drive around in the chaotic traffic of Chinese cities for 12 hours a day, wouldn’t you want someone to talk to? In my experience, taxi drivers have been more open and forthright in discussion than most people I’ve talked to in China through the years. From a Beijing driver telling me plain and simple that he didn’t like Xi Jinping, to a Kunming cabbie complaining about the rising cost of living and stagnant wages, drivers have given me an insight into the way a lot of people here think, but won’t dare speak.

Learn how to take a taxi in China in this episode of “Local Laowai.”

While having conversations with your Chinese cab driver is great and all, you have to build your language skills up to a certain point to be able to do that. First and foremost, you have to make sure you get where you’re going. To help you in your quest to take Chinese taxis and eventually get deep with your drivers, here are 25 useful words and phrases for hailing a cab in the Middle Kingdom:

English Chinese Pinyin
taxi 出租车 chū zū chē
take a taxi 打车 dǎ chē
taxi driver 司机 sī jī
expert/master 师傅 shī fù
turn on the meter 打表 turn on the meter
address 地址 dì zhǐ
Where do you want to go? 到哪里?/去哪里? dào nǎ lǐ?/qù nǎ lǐ?
I want to go to… 我想去… wǒ xiǎng qù…
Please take me to… 请带我去… qǐng dài wǒ qù…
Do you know…? 你知道… 吗? nǐ zhī dào… ma?
turn right 右拐 yòu guǎi
turn left 左拐 zuǒ guǎi
go straight 直走 zhí zǒu
traffic light 红绿灯 hóng lǜ dēng
near jìn
far yuǎn
in front of 前边 qián bian
behind 后边 hòu bian
next to 旁边 páng biān
across from 对面 duì miàn
stop the car 停车 tíng chē
here 这里 zhè lǐ
there 那里 nà lǐ
How much is it? 多少钱? duō shǎo qián?
Can I have a receipt? 可以给我发票吗? kě yǐ gěi wǒ fā piào ma?

After you’ve studied those words and phrases a bit, go through this video and follow along. The topic is getting a taxi to the hotel, so it’s a great one to study if you’re planning on visiting China. Cab drivers can be quite the chatty bunch here, but not in English…

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.


  1. Alishabrown:

    I agree with you Sasha!
    Sometimes I do feel that when we are in taxi if we converse with people then we can not only gain the information about that place but sometimes language of the local people.

  2. Jordan:

    Awesome resource! How big are taxis in Beijing? Are they necessary to get around, or is it possible to walk to many places?

    • sasha:

      @Jordan Taxis are huge in Beijing since it’s such a big city. You can walk in certain areas but definitely need some help getting around.

  3. James Hill:

    Great post, you are generous to share your experience in taking a cab in China, I cannot imagine the language barrier between English to Chinese language. You has plenty of advantage when you going around and can speak to the local fluently.

  4. Irving Taxi:

    This can be a great inspiring article. I’m pretty much pleased along with your good work. You set really very useful information. Preserve it up. Hold blogging. Looking to studying your subsequent post.

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