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Taken in China : A cost-saving kidnapping

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I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.

Having watched Taken the night before this is the first thing that goes through my mind as the taxi accelerates away from the hotel, with H hanging out the back door.

The second is “I don’t have any of those skills. I can barely speak the language.”

If you haven't seen Taken, you just need to know he's on the phone to the man that kidnapped his daughter.

Getting home from the Chengdu Panda Conservation Centre was proving to be problematic. The buses were full and the waiting taxis were demanding a ransom to drive us the twenty minutes back into town. We’d been warned to avoid the gypsy cabs waiting by the entrance – those people who paint their cars to look like taxis, but don’t have the correct A-Txxx number plate.

Chengdu Taxi Number Plate

The number plate of our taxi in Chengdu

Eventually a cab pulled up, dropping off a happy foreign couple, whilst we arranged for the smiling driver to use the meter. He agreed and we set off. We sat in the back seat, thumbing through photos of baby panda cubs on our cameras, only pausing to register the driver’s uncharacteristic willingness to give way to other cars at every opportunity.

The thirty-minute journey here had cost 47rmb, so I was somewhat surprised after about five minutes to notice the meter already approaching 50rmb.

Cabs in China have two costs – the distance meter and the time meter. The distance ticks up whilst moving, and the time meter counts in seconds 1,2,3,4..etc whenever the cab is stopped in traffic. As we slowed for a crossroads I watched the time meter go up 4,8,12,16.. and the total price increasing accordingly.

Pointing this out to the driver, he frowned and sullenly stared straight ahead.

Willing to cut our losses, we demanded he stop. Instead he sped up dangerously and somehow made it back to the hotel without needing to come to a halt again.

Chengdu Taxi Driver

Our taxi driver

Once we pulled to a stop outside the hotel, the driver pointed at the 188rmb fare on the meter. We offered to pay the outward rate of 47 and asked for a receipt. The receipt came out of the machine and he passed it to us, again pointing at the 188.

Realising there was no driver ID card on the dashboard I got out to take a note of the license plate, and stole a quick snap of the driver, whilst H phoned the number of the taxi company on the receipt.

There was no record of the license plate with the taxi company.

By now, the driver was being increasingly aggressive, causing a small crowd to gather, including the elderly taxi wrangler from our hotel.

H is still inside the car, now calling the police when the driver panics and accelerates away, hitting me in the leg and sending me reeling into the taxi wrangler.

Shocked, I look at the wrangler, then my bleeding leg, then the rapidly receding taxi with H hanging out the open door.

Now what? Where are they going? How the hell am I going to explain this to the police in Mandarin?

From a side street, a truck pulls out in front of the cab and brings it to a screeching halt.

Adrenaline kicks in, dulling the pain in my leg, and I start sprinting while deciding whether to go for the driver’s door or passenger door? Whether to go for the eyes or throat? Whether to drag him out and smash his face on the tarmac or on the kerb?

The quote from Taken runs through my head, followed by the grudging admission “…but I don’t and I can’t

“Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” – Isaac Asimov

Planning for imminent violence brings back memories of playing rugby, except “Where’s the ball? Who do I need to tackle?” becomes “Who of the bystanders loitering around will wade in? Will they side with me, or their fellow citizen getting pummelled by someone twice his size?”  then “I’m awful at running…this probably doesn’t look too good.”

The three nearest people to the cab are an elderly female kebab seller and two men hunched over a chess board. “They’re not going to help me much and I can beat them down as well if they try and stop me… “.

“In violence, we forget who we are” – Mary McCarthy

Now there are people shouting behind me, but I can’t make out the words. The chess players look up from their game.

“Whose side will the police take if they find a large foreigner standing over a crushed and bleeding cab driver?”

As I reaching the rear of the cab, H steps out calmly. I’m just reaching for the driver’s door, when he looks in the mirror and wide-eyed stamps on the accelerator, careening down the street with the rear door still open.

“Are you alright?” I ask, panting and slightly shaky from the adrenaline.

“Yep, free cab ride!”

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Author

Since leaving London in 2006 I’ve travelled, worked, volunteered and lived in over 90 countries. Highlights so far would be driving along the Silk Road from Beijing to Istanbul, a complete circuit of South America and volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Costa Rica. I’m currently back in Beijing, as a base to visit more of Asia and attempt to learn Mandarin.

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