US govt hails cabbies' drive to please

By Zhao Yanrong (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-11-25 07:03

Forty-year-old taxi driver Zhou Yong only caught a glimpse of US President Barack Obama's back from far away during 12 days working for the White House Communications Agency in Beijing - but it was a glimpse he will never forget.

"When I was told I would be working for Obama during his (Nov 16-18) Beijing trip, I hoped I would get a chance to chat with the US president," Zhou said Tuesday.

But that never happened and he had to settle for a long-range look during the US president's visit to the Badaling section of the Great Wall.

"I glanced at his back from far away across the car park," he said.

But despite not managing to get up close and personal with Obama, Zhou was thrilled to have worked with the White House team, along with fellow Beijing drivers Wang Decheng and Yang Bo.

The three received letters of appreciation from the White House agency at the weekend for their "impeccable professionalism".

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Their names were put forward by Beijing's first taxi company, Shou Qi Group, for the once-in-a-lifetime tour of duty.

Yang Bo said: "I was just doing my job, but I am glad to see my work was appreciated by the White House."

Yang was assigned to work night shifts throughout the 12 days - from Nov 7 to Nov 18. While working, he could not find the time to go home to see his 6-year-old son.

"I had to make sure I had enough energy at night time, so I rented a hotel room for 80 yuan ($11.70) a day near the St Regis Hotel where the American visiting group was based," he said.

Yang said he liked to keep the vehicle's heater on but he chose to stand outside the car while waiting for his clients.

"I wanted my guests to feel the warmth once they got inside my car but I needed to keep my mind clear, so I stood outside during the cold nights to keep myself awake," he said.

Despite the fact that he could barely speak English, Yang found a way to communicate with his customers. On his first day, he was asked to take the communications staff to the US embassy but he was not told whether to go to the new building or the old building.

Yang drew two houses on a piece of paper, and put one used cigarette box on one house and one brand new box on the other. After pointing to the American flag in front of their hotel, he gestured for the US staff to choose.

"When the American picked up the new cigarette case, I knew I should take them to the new embassy," he said with a smile.

The Shou Qi Group has worked during all US presidential trips to Beijing, ever since Richard Nixon's visit in 1972.

"We have accumulated a lot of experience in serving VIP guests through generations of drivers," said Yu Kai, assistant general manager of the third branch of Shou Qi.

He said the three drivers were selected from more than 200.

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