We recently had the pleasure of taking our first ever Uber ride in Hong Kong. I must admit I was a bit ‘meh’ about the whole Uber phenomenon – any new tech company that is valued at fifty one billion dollars makes me gun shy, especially an app – but still vaguely intrigued. Not intrigued enough to actually try it, mind you, but then I’m not what you would call an early adopter. What can I say, I prefer the real newspaper (NY Times thank you very much) and actual books. Yup, give me the dead trees any day. No kindle for this kid.

Uber ad for drivers

But eventually I cave in and try everything, and there I was last week sitting outside someone’s building way up in the mid-levels near Bowen Road and nary a taxi in sight. A younger, and more tech addled friend whipped out her phone and said ‘Should we Uber it?’ I guess that’s a thing now, ‘Ubering’ (yes, I was one of those annoying people years ago saying ‘I don’t tweet’). Actually I don’t tweet…much. Very rarely, only when I’m pushing something.

Anyway she hit up the app and we immediately discovered there was a car in the vicinity. Within five minutes a very nice, shiny new silver car appeared and we climbed in. I wish I could tell you what kind of car it was, but I can’t. I’m not much of a gear head either. But it was new (smelled new too) and roomy, and easily sat the four of us. The driver was also clean looking and young, and very polite. If my grandmother had been in the car she would have said, ‘He’s a nice boy, and very polite’. We told him where we were going – Soho – and off we zoomed into the balmy night.

HK taxi drivers protest against Uber

Since it wasn’t very far, it wasn’t really too much more than a normal taxi would have cost, maybe fifty HKD instead of thirty five – I actually can’t remember because I’m one of those guys who just gets out and lets people deal with paying for the taxi and then asks how much? I’m also kind of allergic to numbers. Now that I’m writing this I guess I’m sort of a throwback in more than one respect.

Trying to get one in the rain

So my initial (and to date, only) Uber experience was definitely a positive one. I remember thinking, ‘I’ll have to download that app…it could come in handy’. But I’ll tell you the truth, I’ll never download Uber, for the simple reason that I won’t use it. Not because it isn’t great – it is – but like I said, I’m just an analog man in a digital world. I actually love my smartphone, but I probably use about 20% of its functions. I call people, and I take pictures. Increasingly I use social media too, but that’s really about it. I still say to people all the time, ‘I don’t know where that restaurant is’ forgetting I have the world at my fingertips in the form of google. I get completely frustrated trying to navigate my address book in the phone – half the time giving up with an angry grunt. But seriously, why is it that suddenly every person I’ve ever known (and their friends) phone numbers and emails are in my phone?

Then, a few days ago I got into a taxi with a friend, and he was telling me how Uber’s offices in Hong Kong were raided by the police (I swear this place is becoming China waaaay to fast) and five people were arrested, including some interns. Yeah, good job boys…good luck interrogating the interns. Seriously, isn’t this meant to be a free first world city with the rule of law that we hear about ad nauseum? So the taxi mafia is upset because Uber is providing what they don’t? And the city supports the taxi companies, and the whole squeaky clean process of selling medallions. So get the boys in light blue to raid their offices! With a reaction like that you’d think it was Don Barzini moving in on the Corleone’s turf.

Haggling from the taxi queue

So there we sat in the back of the taxi, with the elderly driver scratching his bald head, pushing the gas every five seconds so that I was starting to feel sea sick, and talking loudly into a phone mounted on his dashboard. There were also two cackling hens laughing non-stop on some insipid talk radio show that he was trying to talk over. Then my friend looked at me and said, ‘How can a company like that be valued at fifty one billion dollars?’

Just then the taxi driver swerved violently and justmissed a minibus, followed by a few salty Cantonese oaths about the other driver’s mother and ancestors. Then for an encore he belched audibly and followed that up with two smaller eruptions. My friend looked at me, and we both started cracking up. With ambassadors like this guy, why would anyone want to use Uber?

By Slip Mahoney