China Rant: Eyes Down and Pray

08:46 Paul Robinson 0 Comments

Chinese cities are sprawling and densely populated, meaning getting around can be a challenge. I commute to work by bike and there is not a day that goes by without me seeing a car crash, being involved in a near miss or having to swerve round someone who steps out into the road without looking.

China is apparently the land of the bicycle, but you wouldn't guess that if you lived here. Most Chinese people cycle like they've never seen a bike in their life. They are all knees and elbows and they wobble about so much, it's like cycling in a straight line is a punishable offence.

Then there is the e-bike. These electric powered bicycles are for those who can afford the 1500RMB price-tag (£150) or those who are too dim to pass a driving test. There are two seats but it's not uncommon to see two adults on the bike with a child and bunch of shopping squeezed between the drivers lap. There are also brakes on the bike which nobody uses, instead they just drag their shoes along the ground until they stop. If you are unlucky enough to be spotted, people tend to stare at you and forget they are driving a vehicle. Eyes wide open, mouth wide open, they steam towards you and you have to swerve out of their way. The bikes are also fitted with a horn which people tend to use when they can see a collision is about to happen and they know their brake-shoes aren't going to help.

Next up is the three-wheeled trike. These vehicles are used mainly to transport materials. When they are weighed-down with a mountain of polystyrene and used packaging they are amusing - when they are empty they are a menace. The drivers all think they are Valentino Rossi but forget their trike is as wide as car. They accelerate through gaps that don't exist and spend their whole day cutting people up.

China's burgeoning middle class can all afford cars. They drive their cars in a constant state of urgency - overtaking, undertaking, accelerating but never giving way. And always, ALWAYS, beeping their f**king horns. Nobody seems to realise that beeping your horn will not clear the congestion or prevent an accident. Think Mario Kart without the colour, fun and fruit weaponry (thankfully).

There are also sadistic bus drivers who enjoy nothing more than throwing their passengers across a crowded bus and lorry drivers who just seem hellbent on spilling their load all over the carriageway. All this happens on roads in which nobody follows the lane markings, rules of the road or even the direction of traffic.  Traffic junctions are signalled but the red lights don't actually seem to stop traffic from any direction. And when the 'green man' flashes, pedestrians just have to cross the road with cars still ploughing through the crowd. Then there is the ever-present toxic pollution. Although the way people drive, they'd be lucky to live long enough to get lung cancer.

All this chaos is a bit overwhelming. When I first arrived in China, I couldn't even cross the road by myself. Now I've got enough experience to ride my bike around town and be aware enough to expect when something crazy is going to happen. I must look like a meercat with my eyes peeled and my head constantly bobbing about taking everything in. On the other hand, the Chinese get around with their eyes glued firmly to their brake-shoes. People don't ever look left, right or even straight ahead, unless of course there's a laowai around.

At first, I enjoyed the chaos and the commotion. Commuting isn't much of an adventure back home. But there have been so many near misses, I'm lucky that the only thing I've lost is my patience.

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