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avant-garde_chauvintist wandering through the garden of ideals

Driver's Ed: Beijing Style

CHINA | Thursday, 24 January 2008 | Views [543]

We have this stereotype...in America...about Asian drivers.  It's that they're BAD at it.  I don't know if stereotypes are ever justified.  But this one, it seems, has been bred into them from their roots in the Motherland.

Quite of few of my students told me that they would be learning to drive over the Spring Festival (also known as the Chinese New Year).  They couldn't give me an age on which is it appropriate to begin such lessons, but they all seemed perfectly content learning at the age of 18-20.  So I deduced from this that 18-20 is the age when Chinese learn to drive.  

But I'm not sure exactly what that entails.  The drivers in China...don't know how to drive.  I'm not quite sure how to describe it, but if you've visited a third world country, you've probably experienced it as well.

In a nutshell, traffic lights don't mean anything, neither do blinkers, and the horn is the almighty tool.  When I try to cross the street, the little green man symbolizes something like "you're slightly more likely to make it across right now, but no guarantees!"  Crossing traffic usually happens in two parts; cross when there are no cars coming on one side and then precariously hang out in the middle of the road until the same situation happens on the other side. 

Kari and her friend Joe were visiting Beijing the other day.  We were taking a taxi back to my apartment around six o'clock because a whole bunch of us were going to meet up, have drinks, and get some dinner.  They were to show up around seven.  We managed to snag a taxi at about 6:05pm.  Then we made it to the next block before madness ensued. 

The light turned green.  We inched forward because the people from the other direction were still going.  Hmmm.  My dad taught me this trick too.  He grew up driving in New York.  When I started driving and would get stuck cycle after cycle at a red light, he would exclaim knowledgably, "IF YOU GET IN THE MIDDLE OF THE INTERSECTION WHEN IT TURNS YELLOW THEN YOU HAVE TO MAKE THE TURN!!!"  Right, Dad.  But I did/do, and it works. 

Well, that's exactly what these lovely Chinese were doing.  Except instead of ONE car, it was 30.  And the light proceeded to change to red again, with us stuck in the middle and no end in sight to the stream of cars from the other direction (who, by that way, still didn't have a green light).  This happened for two light cycles AND THEY WERE STILL COMING.  Frustrated Chinese started inching closer and closer to the anarchic line of traffic trying to put a stop to their errant ways.  Which, of course, caused the most horrific traffic jam I've ever seen in my life.  No one could go anywhere because cars were literally inches (centimeters?) from each other going in completely opposite directions.  If I hadn't been do damn angry at this point, I would have taken a picture.

The road just past this intersection was completely clear.  We paid our Y10 to go about 10 feet and hopped out to try to find another one.  But this was the worst idea of the evening because it seemed like every single taxi in Beijing was stuck in that mess. 

We did end up getting home just before seven.  But, luckily, everyone else was stuck in some kind of traffic madness.  We had time to tidy up before they got there.  And relax a little from that stressful ride home.

Anyway, my students are going to become part of the madness, apparently. 

I hope they give me a ride occasionally!

Tags: Culture

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