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Sitting behind a wheel, not behind a desk

A UNIVERSITY grad in China is supposed to get a white-collar job - low-paid service jobs are traditionally beneath them. Young people these days also have very high opinions of themselves and high expectations. They want to sit behind a desk, not behind a wheel.

Times have changed and many cannot find jobs; the economic downturn has made the situation worse.

Today we can find college-educated taxi drivers plying the streets of Shanghai, many of them recent graduates unable to find work.

Liu Zhicheng, a 22-year-old graduate, has been driving more than four months for Haibo Taxi Co. The enterprise has nearly 50 university grads among its 11,000 drivers. And Haibo isn't the biggest in the city.

Liu studied international trade through Beijing University's long-distance learning by computer program. He started driving when he was a sophomore.

"I love driving," says Liu who rode a motorcycle for six years and became acquainted with city streets and attractions.

He never thought, however, that he would put his driving skills to good use and earn a living behind the wheel.

"Because of the financial storm, many college graduates have big problems finding work and many are jobless. I was afraid I would become one of them," says Liu.

He was confused about his future. "I thought, 'Why not pick a job I'm familiar with and interested in?' Being a taxi driver is perfect for me."

Most parents would be horrified to admit to others that their darling child with a university degree is reduced to driving a cab.

His parents are very supportive, he says. Two of his former schoolmates, who are also his neighbors, also drive taxis. "They influenced me a lot," he says.

Many college grads only earn 1,800-2,000 yuan (US$263-293) a month, but Liu earned 4,000 yuan in his first month.

"I can earn more and get social experience. This is much better than staying at home," says the young cabbie.

Liu's buddy Zha Liyong also drives for Haibo and feels the same way. Zha, 27, was a business major at Xuzhou Air Force College, and studied in Japan. He's fluent in Japanese.

He has been driving a taxi for nine months. After returning from Japan he changed jobs several times.

"But I realize that driving a taxi suits me best," says Zha.

His fluency in Japanese has helped. In his first month as a cabbie, he picked up two Japanese passengers at Hongqiao International Airport.

"They were very surprised after I greeted them in Japanese and when they got out they asked for my phone number," he says.

Zha is using his skills in economics and money management, carefully recording all his costs and income. His earnings rose from 2,000 yuan in his first month to 6,000 in his fourth month - it has become something of a legend.

"In traditional terms, it's not so acceptable for college graduates to become taxi drivers, but I made the decision after careful consideration. My parents understand," he says.

Zha plans to develop new Japanese customers through the Internet.

"I will enter an online community where Japanese often gather and connect with potential customers by QQ and MSN," he says.


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