Taxi, taxi! China's Internet abuzz about presidential fare

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is keen to break from the stiff and aloof style of past leaders, apparently takes random taxi rides in Beijing and gives moderate tips - that is if you believe the story of a local cabbie.

A report carried by the government-backed Ta Kung Pao newspaper has lent some credence to the story that China's new leader hailed a cab in the capital last month to take him to the Diaoyutai Hotel, part of the well-guarded state guesthouse.

The incident, which has created a buzz on the Internet, could not be independently verified.

Taxi driver Guo Lixin says he picked up two men, one of whom turned out to be Mr Xi, who at the time was Chinese Communist Party secretary and was two weeks later named China's president.

Striking up a conversation with the passenger sitting in the front of the car, Mr Guo said he mentioned the bad pollution."Polluting is easy; solving it is hard," Mr Guo quoted the man next to him as replying.

The passenger then commented at length about the government's work towards improving people's lives.

That caused Mr Guo to take a closer look and to ask the passenger if people ever told him he looked like Mr Xi Jinping, a tall and heavyset man who is keen to portray himself as more down-to-earth than past Chinese leaders.

"You're the first driver to recognise me," Mr Xi reportedly replied with a chuckle - implying that he had taken such taxi rides before.

The man in the back seat, who was not identified, gave Guo 30 yuan for the 27 yuan (S$5.35) fare. Mr Xi insisted that Mr Guo keep the three yuan (about 48 cents) change, a tip of some 11 per cent.

A man answering the phone at Mr Guo's employer, the Shengdali taxi company, said he would not talk about it and hung up.