aqua fortis

Monday, May 22, 2006

Things I Learned in China, Part One: Transportation

  • The roads are an insane place. If you do not have balls of steel, you have no business driving around in China. Fortunately, all the taxi drivers and minibus drivers we had the joy of utilizing had balls aplenty. Especially in Beijing, where the roads are packed from curb to curb with cars, trucks, bikes, mopeds, bicycle carts, and pedestrians, the chance of random sudden death seems to be quite high, at least to my Western eyes. Pedestrians appear not to have right of way, but they will routinely walk towards and into traffic as if they do. People seem to somehow know when to start or stop walking or driving, but I saw no logic to the madness. To me, it seemed like everybody was trying to walk or drive everywhere at the same time, and I was constantly convinced that our minibus driver was going to mow down a few bikes whenever he made a turn. When we were in Shanghai, a friend of Rob's Auntie Fang (an aunt by marriage who was raised in Shanghai), named Lou, drove us around for a day in his rented minivan, and he jokingly asked if anybody wanted to try driving in China. Ha ha, we said, but no. Rob said he considered it for about half a second, but then it occurred to him that he had no idea what the right of way is supposed to be. We noticed that on certain occasions, cars making a left turn have right of way to the opposing traffic, but we weren't sure why or how.

    Most Interesting Traffic Moment: While taking a bicycle-rickshaw tour of a hutong, or traditional Chinese neighborhood in Beijing, we got caught in an alley traffic jam that consisted of cars, bikes, rickshaws, and pedestrians. Whee!

  • Cars have strange names. While we're on the subject of cars, I noticed that auto manufacturers have different naming conventions in China. According to the aforementioned Lou, lots of automakers produce cars specifically for the Chinese market, brands that aren't found elsewhere. For instance, there's the Volkswagen Santana, which I found rather amusing. The Santana 3000 is commonly used for taxicabs, and is slightly smaller than a Passat sedan. We also saw a lot of red Citroen taxis and blue-and-gold or tan-and-gold Hyundai Elantra taxis. Needless to say, these cabs are not large. Other entertaining cars I jotted down were Nissan Sunny and Cadillac Shanghai. The latter is a minivan; I also saw a Buick minivan.
  • You can tow anything on the back of a bicycle cart. While we were on the hutong tour--on bicycle rickshaws--we saw a small cart attached to the back of a bike. Tied to the small cart was a rather large couch, at least a third of which extended off the back of the cart platform. Boxes of groceries, garbage, loads of bamboo, you name it--it will be attached to a bicycle and toted. Plus, people will ride on the back of someone else's bicycle, sidesaddle. That just seems dangerous to me, especially in light of the scary traffic I already talked about.
  • Chinese planes are much nicer than ours. On our flights within China--from Beijing to Xi'an, from Xi'an to Guilin, and from Guilin to Shanghai--we were on some of the cushiest, newest planes I've ever been on. If Southwest Airlines is like a flying bus, these were like flying Lexuses (Lexi?). More legroom, much newer, and one of them even had an anime safety video on the drop-down video screen. However, it was not good-quality anime, I'm sorry to say. I would call it craptacular, but amusing.


Chris Cope said...

I have always been a fan of that extreme chaos that heavily populated areas can produce. But I've always wondered how a person can actually live in that.

TadMack said...

I pretty much think that everyone has nicer planes than ours. Dutch ones? Primo. With great food, even! (Although their trains remind me quite creepily of MUNI on a bad day...)Yeah, the driving thing in other countries is always terrifying - we thought of driving into just little ol' Mexico once - bad idea. Even our insurance quits at the border.

MeiMeiLn said...

Glad you had a great, interesting time! Welcome back to the land of plenty of TP. :)