If there is one word that could sum up a person’s experience in (or with) China, it is “randomness”. And no activity or experience can express “randomness” as perfectly as experiencing Chinese traffic.
And it’s not the fault of the Chinese driver. Most of them are frighteningly new to the task of maneuvering a 2.5 ton vehicle through a number of the same. Without checking all the statistics (I’m too lazy.), I’m confident in saying that more that 75% of China’s drivers are first-generation drivers. And just last year (this one I know), China’s private car ownership increased over 10% from the previous year. Most of these newbies have been driving for less that ten years. So, whatever strange behavior I describe, we’re talking baby’s first steps here.
Add those scary facts to the reality that traffic laws are rarely enforced (unless lucrative, see below), and you have a situation best described as caveat radaerius (driver beware). If you will take the time to write down a list of bad driver habits you have experienced in the past ten years, you will have a list of the bad driver habits it’s possible to experience in a weeks’ time here in Yantai.
Here’s a story to illustrate what you’re up against as a driver in Yantai: Last week, I had dinner with Zhenyu and Tingting. When we left the restaurant, it was softly misting. We hailed a taxi to take us home, and I got in the front seat (dumb, dumb, dumb). In a few minutes, the rain started pelting down, and visibility decreased, well, uh, visibly. The cabbie immediately turned on his bright lights, cradled the bumper of the car ahead, flashed his lights, and honked his horn. Ignored by the driver in front of us, he moved to the left shoulder, but was beaten to the punch by the car ahead. He then rocketed to the right shoulder nearly shearing the front bumper of a car in the middle lane of the three-lane avenue. Luckily, the right shoulder was clear and he sped ahead repeating some variation of the foregoing.
Curiously (actually I was in a panic), I asked Ting if she would inquire as to the reason for his ABERRATION FROM COMMON SENSE! She did, and reported this response:
“It is raining. When it is raining, I have many fares. So, I must get you to your destination quickly. That way, I have many more fares.”
How can you argue with that kind of imperturbable logic?
However, all-in-all, the drivers in Yantai operate their vehicles as if they were participating in a slow waltz. There’s always a few that are doing the Lindy instead of a waltz (OK, I don’t actually know what the Lindy is, but I know it’s faster.), but mostly the ride to oblivion here is slow.
- Traffic laws are rarely enforced: Except in, at least, two instances. 1. The DUI enforcement is draconian. Since the police don’t enforce traffic laws, they have to set up roadblocks. And there ain’t no breathalyzers here in ocean city. The officer sticks his head in the front seat, and has the driver breathe in his face. If your breath smells of alcohol, you go to jail and your license is summarily cancelled. You don’t drive for 5 years and have to repay for drivers’ school (not a small amount), and pass the driver’s test (more on the test in a later post). The only toleration limit is whether or not the testing officer has a cold (And I suppose with all those people breathing in his face, he just might have one, and you luck out). 2. Intersection cameras. Many are privately-owned—by the precinct captain. He syndicates the ownership among his lieutenants and officers. Even though they don’t bother to enforce, I’ll bet they collect.
- Traffic lanes are for sissies: Most have been painted with such poor quality paint that they have become almost indistinct anyway. Where lanes exist, they make great markers over which to center your car.
- If you miss an exit, stop and return to the missed exit: No matter where you are. If you’re in the middle lane of the expressway, stop. You then have two choices. You may either back up or you execute a u-turn. Whichever you feel most comfortable with.
- Intersection turns are sacrosanct: If you are turning right or left, signal! Once you have signaled, the intersection belongs to you. If you are making a left turn, you may wait for oncoming traffic or not, the choice is yours. If oncoming traffic refuses to be bluffed, get into the intersection at all costs. You may ignore other cars turning left and act as if you are the leading vehicle. If you must, you may cut off any cars that are turning left and have reached the intersection before you. If you are turning right, you may ignore any traffic — even traffic with a so-called right-of-way coming from your left. You may ignore pedestrians at all times. (Nota bene: Most of the walk-don’t walk signs have a small green neon animated figure that appears to have only one leg. It seems appropriate.)
- Speed is relative to your conversation: The more you have to say, the faster you should drive.
- Entering and exiting the ROW: Rear-view mirrors are for sissies. And, there is no such thing as a blind spot — that rumor is obviously western propaganda.
- Overtaking vehicles: Do so FORCIBLY! If you must force them off the road, do so. They shouldn’t have been in front of you.
- Weave: Weaving keeps you free.
- Cell Phone: The phone is for you to use, anytime, anywhere, anyplace.
- Litter: Your car is your temple. Keep it clean. There’s more room outside the car than inside.
- Accidents: If you have a fender-bender, stay with your car. And remember to stand in the middle of road regardless of where your car is, and argue loudly with the other driver or drivers.
- Red lights: Intersection signals are there for reference only. It doesn’t matter what their color is.
- Crosswalks: Vehicles are going to ignore you no matter where you cross the street. So, cross the street at a point and at a time that’s convenient to your schedule.
These are just a few of the things that I’ve observed about traffic. And all of these rules apply no matter what type of vehicle you drive. As I observe or experience more, I’ll post them.
Another small thing that complicates the task of the Chinese driver is the multiplicity of different vehicles that abound on the streets and highways. There are city buses, short haul buses, long haul buses bicycles, scooters—electric and gasoline, three-wheel work vehicles—powered by gasoline and foot, street cleaners, small trucks, large trucks, tour buses, and pedestrians trying to escape them all.
I observe new rules daily. And, as I think of them, I’ll try to post them. Two things I know: (1) Buses must be underpowered, and (2) Bus brakes are required to squeal loudly.