Mayhem

Crossing the road in China is not for the faint-hearted.

Now, granted, I’ve become slightly more cautious about the whole road-crossing procedure since leaving Ballymena. In my home town, crossing the road meant dealing with either one or two lanes of traffic. Traffic which would be going no faster than 30mph, and which was guaranteed to stop if the lights changed to red. Should you try to jaywalk (a term which is mostly unknown and completely irrelevant) by weaving in and out of slowly moving cars to get to the other side, you could be certain that you’d survive the experience – drivers would stop if you got in their way. It was all very laid-back and, well, safe.

Travelling across Europe opened my eyes somewhat, and I quickly realised that road-crossing is rather more challenging in places like, say, Estonia or France. And then I came to Asia, where it’s really more of an extreme sport. I mean, Korea is bad. I’d a post all planned about the lack of road rules here, but it seems insignificant now that I’ve been to China.

In some places, there’s a total absence of traffic vs. pedestrian laws. Huge main roads and vast intersections with ten lanes of traffic coming from all directions (with no lane markings) fly along at motorway speed in the city centre. For the most part, there were no ‘little green man’ style crossings – just a zebra crossing marked on the road, and no other indication for the traffic to stop. Which it did not. Nor was there any point at which the traffic from all directions was at a halt, making it a safe opportunity to nip across. I know this because I stood on the edge of a kerb for a ridiculously long time waiting hopefully for this to happen. No you basically have to just go, and hope for the best.

I quickly learned that the only way I was going to have a chance of survival was to thrust myself into the middle of a group of Chinese people who looked like they were thinking about crossing the road. I didn’t even look at the streams of speeding vehicles on all sides; I simply fastened myself to the group and walked when they walked. You have to pause several times at various points in the road as cars zip around you. And if you’re waiting for a gap to appear in the next lane, and a car approaches in the one you’re still in, it honestly won’t stop. It will either hurtle towards you, honking loudly, or try to swerve around you, causing much screeching of brakes as it almost causes a collision with traffic coming the other way. The whole thing is just horrendous. And hilarious. I actually burst out laughing when I got to the other side for the first time after my safety in numbers brainwave. I think it might have been nerves and hysterica mixed with my amusement at the insanity of it all.

Even when there is a little green man, the cars don’t actually stop for it. I studied the situation in great detail, and can honestly conclude that I see no reason whatsoever for the existence of traffic lights in China.

On the bus back to Beijing from the Great Wall, Chandler and I clung to our seats, our faces white with terror, as the driver alternately blared the horn and screeched to a halt to narrowly avoid slamming into other vehicles. Chandler swore a lot in an attempt to conceal his fear and appear cool. I just gasped and closed my eyes.

Holy ****, are those people actually strolling across the freeway?! he almost yelled at one point, his voice going all squeaky. We gazed out of the window in disbelief for a while, observing the pushbikes and handcarts and rickety rickshaws and pedestrians all competing with the 7950-lane motorway traffic. Old men with walking sticks and women with bags on their heads were quite unconcernedly crossing the motorway on foot as vehicles zoomed around them at breakneck speed.

We were traumatised by the time we arrived back in rush-hour Beijing and staggered off the bus into the loud, bustling crowds of people and traffic. All we could do was cling to each other as we attempted to cross the road to get to the subway station and found ourselves stranded in the middle, being honked at and yelled at. When we did finally get across, we were swept along by the crowd as if caught in a tidal wave, while all around us people made apparent suicide runs into the roads and cars drove blindly into the paths of oncoming trucks. This is a little bit mad, I remember thinking to myself as I was pushed and shoved and jostled by the roaring, swarming crowd. I was jolted out of my thoughts by Chandler, who hadn’t spoken for a while, being completely occupied with the task of self-preservation (and holding on to my sleeve – “in case you get trampled”).

****ing hell, this place is ****ing crazy! he remarked with a laugh that sounded halfway between demented and terrified.

I think his way said it better than my way.

Slowing down: a mother and children caught in Beijing traffic jam.

Slowing down: a mother and children caught in Beijing traffic jam.

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4 thoughts on “Mayhem

  1. Sounds like most Asian cities actually. You should try Bangkok or Saigon! And then there’s the bicycles. Apparently due to China’s industrialisation, more people are buying and driving cars. Then they come over here! They’re awful drivers and often get jobs as bus drivers or taxi drivers. I used to catch a bus home from work with the same driver every day who tried his damndest to catapult me through the windscreen at my stop! My daughter calls me racist but quite frankly it’s just an anecdotal observation – the Chinese are crap drivers!

  2. Scary stuff! And I thought Greece was bad! By the way, my dad told me that in most countries other than the UK zebra crossings are just “suggested places to cross” and there is no law that the cars actually have to stop. So they’re not even doing anything wrong by ignoring them!

  3. Baino – I’m learning that there’s a big difference between racism and the idea of stereotypes being true. One of my friends says I do nothing to help him lose his picture of the Irish as a bit dippy and fond of alcohol. :) The Chinese are indeed crap drivers. But they do cook some amazing food!
    Bevchen – Did not know that! But it does explain a lot, now that I look back on some of my scarier road-crossing experiences of the past couple of years…!
    K8 – Oh, they’re all there. I counted them. On the “quieter” roads leading to residential areas, there are hardly any cars, and instead there’s a constant stream of bikes, scooters, rickshaws, and handcarts. I liked that much more. :)

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