Saturday, March 05, 2005

In Cars

Originally uploaded by billmcgonigle.
Doo bidi doo.

One thing I hated about my life back in NoVA was commuting. Driving to and fro at first gave a bit of pleasure, but in the long run, I found it a huge annoyance. I didn't enjoy maintaining my car, often pushing how long I could go without an oil change or refueling. (However, I still took better care of my car than I did of Ms. Kearns'. Bridg, I will never live that down.)

Why do I bring this up? Well, now, in China, I have a personal driver. Yup, a chauffeur. He's an employee of my school whose primary job is to shuttle us profs around town to our various teaching commitments, but as the one teacher who knows Chinese (the driver, Soong, can't speak English, but we have been trading good curses for each's native tongue) I'm quickly developing a good friendship with him. As such, he'll drive me wherever I need/want to go if he has the time. Saves me cab fare or the annoyance of the overcrowded buses.

Traffic laws here are ridiculous. First off, all those ideas you might have of millions of Chinese on bicycles does not apply to Harbin. Due to the extreme cold, very few people here subject themselves to riding face first into the wind without the protection of a heating system or at least a windshield. This means the roads are loaded with automobiles of all sorts.

The major roads are benefitted with a fence in between the two directions and painted line dividers between lanes. Some even have bicyles/moped lanes.

Most roads lack all of these luxuries. That's where the fun comes in.

The entire roadway becomes a free for all: where ever your car can fit, you can go. Bus on the right? Want to pass it? Just drive on the left side of the road! And don't worry about that mule cart or truck heading straight at you! You can honk!

The results are displays of driving as daring as any Barrett Hamilton adventure yet as dumb as... uh... well, its dumb. And at times, quite unnerving.

Pedestrians dont make it any easier. There are random crosswalks on most roads, never at instances where a crosswalk would make sense. Lights will indicate when traffic is to stop so walkers may cross, but the walkers never wait for these handy lights. It is not out of the ordinary to find people standing in between lanes on the highway that runs through town. Imagine trying to cross 495 while traffic is clipping by. Thats daily life here in China.

I should also mention that drivers dont pay attention to street lights. They are not so much a law here as a suggestions from your annoying older brother who knows best and likes to tell you so but you never want to listen. (Take that, BBA!)

The worst of all are the cabs. First off, they are the most daring (worst) of all drivers. More than a few times has my cab, in an effort to pass some traffic, leaped up on the sidewalk and begun honking pedestrians out of its way. With that, they have no fear or sense of safety in where they drive. Take a look of this picture, thats a cab that just drove through a street exploding every which way with firecrackers. And not tiny wussy noisemakers, but explosions big enough to take your hand off.

Riding in a cab, youre greeted by a local liveryman encased within a sturdy roll cage. That's nice and all, especially since you dont have the pleasure of your own seat belt. So the cabbie could easily survive a tumble off a cliff, but youre dead at the first short stop. Thanks. At least youre cheap and I dont have to tip you.

Gary Numan was wrong. Her in my car, in China, I feel the least safe of all.


At 10:23 AM, Blogger eirishis said...

Potentially your best post to date. Nice. Was at Five Guys last night and thought of you. Then I thought, "Maybe I should concentrate on this monstrous burger in front of me instead." So I did that.


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