Gas, Horn, Brake, Gas, Horn

Commit those actions to memory (and don’t forget the horn) and you have passed the driving test in China. Riding in a bus in Beijing I was never so happy to entrust my life to another driver, a stranger to boot, but Mr. Ran could do all those actions and make a U-turn with a tour bus amidst cars, trucks, motorbikes, bicycles, tuk-tuks, pedestrians and other buses.

bikes

On the first day our guide, Zjang (John), told us that if we decided to go walking in the city by ourselves we didn’t have to worry about crime. Yes, there might be an occasional pick pocket and the beggars and vendors can be a nuisance but the real danger was in crossing the street. The Chinese only stop if they really, really have to, like in the case of a red light and that isn’t always a certainty.

So if you want to cross the street and have determined there is an opening, you cross, don’t flinch, don’t hesitate, because if you do, the bike, car, motorcycle will just keep going.
Now you’ve stopped, you are backing off a bit , wrong! Problem now is you might be backing up into another vehicle going past behind you. That driver has already calculated that you will not be stopping, least of all backing up and he’s moving through.  So just get off the street, stay in the bus!

Aerial shot of Beijing traffic courtesy of Google

A stillshot but this traffic is moving. picture courtesy of Google

But back to the traffic. We saw a bus turn left in front of our bus from the right lane; motorcycles and bicycles squeezed in between cars and trucks; and two lanes turn into three as one row straddled the line. We saw motorbike drivers balance little kids between their knees, tuk-tuks (3 or 4 wheel electric vehicles) balancing 6′ of cardboard or huge bundles of styrofoam or a mountain of cabbages, and bicycles speeding between it all with passengers clinging to the driver. All of these people are competing with tour buses, dump trucks, delivery trucks and cars.

trafficscenes

Upper left: A car just decides to turn around.
Middle shots: People carry everything on Tuk-tuks
Bottom: A rare pause at a stop light

The amazing thing is we never saw an accident and cars were virtually free of scrapes and dents. I have researched this and though we saw no accidents they do happen, usually the bicycle or motorbike losing big to a car or a bus. Shanghai was the only city where we saw anyone wearing a helmet. China has tried to control the traffic (and the emissions) by restricting car purchases. Cars are not cheap but the Chinese have become more affluent so that isn’t a big deterrent. The second obstacle is the license for the car which can run you on average 82,000 Yuan ($13,400) and you only get the opportunity to pay that exorbitant price if you get picked in the monthly lottery held for plates. About 10,000 are auctioned each month. But all those get snapped up and the people drive on. Oh, and if you can’t afford a car, well you can see that doesn’t stop the people from hitting the road with seemingly, everything they own.

Top: Carrying everything. Bottom left: Water jugs on motorbike. Bottom rt: No cars traffic sign? right.

Top: Carrying everything.
Bottom left: Water jugs on motorbike.
Bottom rt: No cars traffic sign? right.

In the end it’s an interesting mix of give and take and a certain amount of trust that keeps the traffic moving in Beijing. Our US Congress could learn a lot from the drivers in China.

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6 thoughts on “Gas, Horn, Brake, Gas, Horn

  1. I had a new appreciation of the use of bungie cords since traveling in Asia…looks like China may rank right up there with the creative use of them.

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