Perry Knoppert says he wants the world to see the real Beijing. Zou Hong / China Daily
The capital's taxi drivers come in all shapes and sizes but imagine hailing a cab and being greeted by a foreign driver.
It's something that could happen after Perry Knoppert gets behind the wheel.
The man from the Netherlands, who speaks only halting Chinese, will hit the road at the end of the month.
But, while Knoppert's taxi will look just like all the others on the capital's busy roads, it will only be on the road for about two hours a day and in two months' time it will be but a memory.
And it will have one important difference - it will be fitted with six cameras that will record whatever goes on inside.
"I am going to make history," he joked. "I will be the first foreign taxi driver who is not a Beijing resident and who is from a Western country."
The reason for the special taxi is that Knoppert and his team are planning to make an online show about the experience.
They want to find out how people will react to seeing a Westerner behind the wheel who speaks poor Chinese and who barely knows his way around the city.
Knoppert says he will get lots of support from his team who will follow close behind. An interpreter in the car behind will translate what is being said through a small transmitter in his ear. In addition, a real taxi driver will send him directions.
At the end of the journey, passengers will be told they were filmed while in the car and asked whether they would let the production team use the video in the show.
"I chose being a taxi driver for the show because people who appear on the program will be very random," he said. "I will be able to get to know people from all walks of life within a short time. The taxi will serve as a tiny window into the real China, not the stereotyped China that is often distorted in the West."
He is eager to find out whether he will be able to get passengers to open up and make conversation.
And he wonders if they will help him out with his Chinese and his directions.
He says it will be fun to find out if people will jump out of his taxi and get another if they are in a hurry. And he said he can't wait to see how they first react to seeing a foreigner behind the wheel.
Knoppert said he hopes the show will not only be very funny but interesting because it will shed light on the lives of people in Beijing, which he says is one of the most interesting and important cities in the world.
"I fell in love with the city quickly," said Knoppert, who moved to Beijing one year ago after his wife was appointed to a position here.
"Even having been here for just one year, I feel Beijing is my second hometown. As one of the most important cities in the world, I think more and more people will become interested in this fascinating city. That's why I'm doing the show."
The show will be broadcast online so people from all around the world can see it.
Knoppert, who is also the vice-president of the Beijing office of a company that specializes in animal nutrition and related products, is hoping his show will help make China more accessible to people in the West who may have prejudices about the country.
"After I came here, I found what I see and hear is rather different from what I used to know," he said. "I believe the show will be a very positive one for the world to help it get to know the real China, the Chinese people, Beijing taxi and the city of Beijing."
He said he would also like to take his idea to other parts of China to find out how people in other cities react.
If the show turns out to be very popular, he said it could be broadcast live in other cities.
"Perhaps more foreigners will join me," he added, beaming.
(China Daily 11/17/2010)