China Impressions: Driving

25 Jul
Our first two days in China were spent riding in the car to cities 2 1/2 hours outside of Shanghai. It was during this time that I got to fully experience the wonder that is Chinese drivers. I’m currently reading “Lost on Planet China” by J. Maarten Troost. I couldn’t have brought a better book with me on this trip. He describes Chinese drivers perfectly:
“The bus to Ningbo was driven by a man with a fondness for swerving and blaring his horn, which could pretty well describe every driver in China. They are insane, these drivers; mad, crazy, dangerous. They drive angry, pissed off, aggressive. Cars, buses, trucks are just tools for them to say F*ck Off. That is how they drive in China: the F*uck Off school of driving. China has just three percent of the world’s drivers, but has a quarter of all people killed each year by cars. They don’t know how to drive in China. Really. Someone needs to teach them.”
There were at least 10 times that I thought my life was going to end right then and there, in the middle of the road out of Nantong. Still feeling a little jetlagged, I tried to sleep on our way back to Shanghai, only to be woken up and nearly thrown out of my seat every 10 minutes as our driver threw on the brakes to avoid being hit by a truck changing lanes. Trucks seem to believe they have full reign of the road, and can go wherever they please, even if there’s a car already there.
The Chinese also don’t seem to have any sense of lanes. It’s perfectly acceptable to pass on the shoulder and when the traffic is bad in the city, cars will try to squeeze in between other cars and ride on the lane line. I remember looking out the taxi window and seeing another car mere centimeters away.
And then there is the horn honking. Cars honk to signal they want to switch lanes. Then a car with honk to say “Ok, come over.” Another will honk to say “Hey, I’m here, don’t come over!” I can’t figure it out. An acceptable driving position seems to be 10 and horn instead of 10 and 2.
You loyal readers will remember that I am fond of analyzing the driver-pedestrian relationship in Chicago. In China there isn’t one. Cars have the rightaway all of the time, even when it’s a clear green man walking sign. I observed this first hand as I almost got plowed over by a bus tonight. It didn’t even slow down as it whisped by me. I was beginning to feel like Buddy the Elf–“The yellow ones don’t stop!” Except it’s not just cabs. No vehicle yields to pedestrians. I feel like I’m putting my life on the line every time I walk in China–or get into a vehicle, for that matter. Tomorrow we’re flying. I can only hope that’s safer.
Stay tuned for more China Impressions, including dining and–my favorite–bathrooms.

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