A Backseat Passenger’s Conversation with a Female Didi Driver

According to my Didi Chuxing ride-hailing record, I have only encountered two female drivers out of 30 rides in the last few months in Beijing. I jumped on the back of a red Nissan Cima one Sunday afternoon and caught a glimpse of a female Didi driver’s life.

China has long faced a gender imbalance with the country traditionally favors sons, as Reuters reported: “about 118 boys are born for every 100 girls, against a global average of 103 to 107”. Therefore, I find it rare to meet a female Didi driver. I noticed she was not as confident as other male drivers regarding navigation, and I was curious about her background. Therefore, I struck up a conversation with her in Mandarin during my 13-kilometer ride.

Skepticism

To address my observation of her self-doubt, about half way in the ride, my driver asked me if she should take the side road instead of the main road. That’s because she was preparing to drop me off. But when I fired up my Baidu maps app, it indicated we were still eight kilometers away from the destination. I wonder what caused the misunderstanding. After I had corrected her, I noticed she made two U-turns going around in a circle. I once again chimed in by providing a secondary navigation. Together, we steered in the right direction.

“I don’t think the Didi map was very accurate,” she said with earbuds on listening to the navigation instructions.

It’s a claim that I have heard in the past. And that’s why when a Didi driver picks up a ride-hailing order from the app, they like to confirm the pickup location with the passenger on the phone before the arrival. It’s a different practice than from the U.S., in which it’s unusual for Uber or Lyft drivers to call their passengers ahead of the pickup. I wasn’t paying attention with her smartphone that provided the navigation when she made the wrong turns. Therefore, I couldn’t comment on the accuracy of the Didi map.

Who’s this female driver?

Her Didi profile identifies her as Ms. Wang. She is a part-time Didi driver. She works as a cleaning lady during the day, and she often finishes work around 8 pm on a weeknight. She said if she is not exhausted from work, she will provide ride-hailing services for about two or three hours after work for additional income. On average, she offers five rides on each weeknight of driving. She also gives rides on the weekends. I used her service on a Sunday midday. I applauded her diligence for putting on long hours, as I related my experience of working 16 hours straight, back-to-back shifts, for two separate employers in New York City after college.

“I don’t have a choice; I work for my kid,” the 35-year-old Wang said.

Her child is five years old. She decided to let her relatives to raise the kid in her home province, Hubei and followed her husband to settle in Beijing. She got married at 26 in her hometown, which she said it’s considered a late marriage in her village. She also mentioned the newlyweds had to save some money to start a family. Therefore, she didn’t give birth until a few years later. She raised the kid until four and came to the Chinese capital earlier this year after Chinese New Year.

She loathed her lack of a university degree, as she told me she grew up in the rural area of China and her family was poor. But I encouraged her to explore her interests and find free courses online to continue her education. I also acknowledged her courage for taking matters into her own hands now, regardless of her upbringing.

She chose to separate from her young child to pursuit better work opportunities in the city. She told me she only sees her child once or twice a year, as the train tickets are about 600 yuan (US$ 89). “It’s hard to justify that expense,” she said.

Her husband is a chauffeur and he often drives his employer after business meetings involving a night of drinking. According to the traffic laws in Beijing, a drunk driver faces a punishment of a six-month license suspension and a fine of up to 2,000 yuan (US$ 295). Beijing’s laws said it’s illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.02%, as oppose to 0.08% BAC in California and the state of New York.

The end of a ride

Her story is one of many hard-working migrant parents’ stories in China. As much as I’d like to continue the conversation with her, my trip came to an end, and I wished her luck to overcome her challenges ahead. As the society progresses with autonomous driving,  Ms. Wang and her husband’s job would be replaced in the distant future. I sincerely wish Ms. Wang finds success in her way.

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