"One hundred RMB," he told me, his stretched vowels betraying a strong Beijing accent, "it's twenty kilometres."
"It isn't twenty kilometres, it's seven," I said to him, showing him on the map, before quickly discovering that my words were escaping into thin air, the taxi driver having turned and walked away in disgust. It was eleven PM, I was standing outside Dongzhimen Metro Station in Beijing as the temperature plummeted further and further below zero, and had just chased away what appeared to be my only means of getting to my hotel. So far, my return to the Chinese capital wasn't going so well.
I wondered why it had taken me so long to reach Tiananmen Square. I worked in Beijing for three incredibly busy weeks in the summer of 2013; three weeks in which, other than swift trips to the Temple of Heaven and the Great Wall at Mutianyu, I barely had time to do anything other than work and enjoy the occasional beer of an evening. Leaving the sweltering city on a southbound train one evening in late August, I was confident that it would only be a matter of weeks – rather than years – before I was back again. That was now two and half years ago.
I tracked the driver down again – yes, of course, 100 RMB is fine, practically a bargain. Now may I sit in your warm taxi for a while? – and within ten minutes I was gently thawing in my hotel room, waiting for my thumbs to start working once more so I could set my alarm ahead of the next day's dawn mission to Tiananmen.