Driving Crazy

The following comes from a book by Peter Hessler published as a paperback earlier this year.  Hessler is a staff writer for The New Yorker and has, to date, published three books on modern China.  The others are River Town and Oracle Bones which tell of his early experiences as an English Teacher in the 1980s in a Yangtze River town and of the development of the Chinese language (among many other observations).  His observations about the country, the people, and the milieu are among the best I’ve read about China.  Some of his observations, however, were apparently time-sensitive and don’t hold true any longer—at least in Yantai.  Nevertheless, the three books are one of the best expositions of Chinese culture I’ve read and I commend you to them.  His third book, Country Driving is three essays about the Great Wall (walls, actually), modern changes in a small village north of Beijing, and of the factory towns that now populate southern China.  ( A subject that his wife, Leslie Chang has also written about in Factory Girls.)

What follows is a series of questions that Hessler says were gleaned from China’s driver’s license examination (Hessler holds a Chinese driving license)  Bob has added subtext to some of them being unable to resist.:

223. If you come to a road that has been flooded, you should

  1. accelerate, so the motor doesn’t flood
  2. stop, examine the water to make sure it’s shallow, and drive across slowly
  3. find and pedestrian and make him cross ahead of you

Apparently, there are people in Austin who have taken this test.  They, however, tend to follow the dictate of  1 or 2.

282. When approaching a railroad crossing, you should

  1. accelerate and cross
  2. accelerate only if you see a train approaching
  3. slow down and make sure it’s safe before crossing

Once you think about it, you realize there’s not all that much difference between the Chinese and American dumbass.

352. If another motorist stops you to ask directions, you should

  1. not tell him
  2. reply patiently and accurately
  3. tell him the wrong way

I’m going with #3.  That’s more fun.

347. If another driver, with good intentions, warns you about something, you should

  1. be open-minded and listen carefully
  2. not listen
  3. listen and then don’t pay attention to the advice

This is an unfair gender-oriented question. 

133. If you drive for four hours, you must stop the car and take a mandatory rest of at least

  1. 10 minutes
  2. 20 minutes
  3. 15 minutes

Especially if you’ve just left a bar.  On the other hand, apparently none of the Chinese test-writers have been to West Texas.

77. When overtaking another car, a driver should pass

  1. on the left
  2. on the right
  3. wherever, depending on the situation

Obviously, #3 has been taken as a directive by many drivers here in Yantai.  Parking is also a “wherever” situation.  If there’s a space (any kind of space) near your destination, seize it (at any angle – and it doesn’t matter that your car sticks into the ROW – good drivers (?) can avoid it.

81.  After passing another vehicle, you should

  1. wait until there is a safe distance between the two vehicles, make a right-turn signal, and return to the original lane
  2. cut in front of the other car as quickly as possible
  3. cut in front of the other car and then slow down

I can’t decided if #2 or #3 is the most popular.

117.  When approaching a marked pedestrian crossing, you should

  1. slow down and stop if there are questions
  2. accelerate in order to catch up with the car directly in front of you, and then cross closely behind him
  3. drive straight through, because pedestrians should give vehicles the right of way

#3 is the obvious choice.

80.  If, while preparing to pass a car, you notice that it is turning left, making a U-turn, or passing another vehicle, you should

  1. pass on the right
  2. not pass
  3. honk, accelerate, and pass on the left

Unfortunately, #3 is the most popular alternative.  But, if you’re the turning driver, you can’t depend on being directly threatened because the rule is quite fluid.  Too, there may be more than one vehicle overtaking you and one will pass on the left, one on the right, and there’ll be one directly behind you flashing lights and honking like crazy.  The only safe alternative is to go home, park your car, and get blasted on B.  Thus, you’ll live to fight again.

353.  When passing an elderly person or a child, you should

  1. slow down a make sure you pass safely
  2. continue at the same speed
  3. honk the horn to tell them to watch out

Besides, there are 1.3 billion of us.

269.  When you enter a tunnel, you should

  1. honk and accelerate
  2. slow down and turn on your lights
  3. honk and maintain speed

This has been interpreted in several ways.  But, whatever you do, be sure to honk.  And sometimes, it’s best to slow to a crawl and straddle the middle lane marker so no one can pass and force you into the sidewall.

355.  When driving through a residential area, you should

  1. honk like normal
  2. honk more than normal, in order to alert residents
  3. avoid honking, in order to avoid disturbing residents

I’m not sure what “normal” honking is, but I am sure that “avoid honking” is about as acceptable to the drivers around here as “avoid breathing”.

356. If you give somebody a ride, and realize he left something in your car, you should

  1. keep it for yourself
  2. return it to the person or his place of work as quickly as possible
  3. call him and offer to return it for a reward

I haven’t seen this in operation yet, but I would say that 100% of the taxi drivers I’ve met would return the item. 

344.  If you see an accident and the people need help, you should

  1. continue driving
  2. stop, do what you can to help, and contact the police
  3. stop, see if the people offer a reward, and then help

This one hasn’t gotten home yet.  #1 may be the choice most drivers take, but that’s changing.  If you’ll remember, many participants in an accident still leave their cars in the middle of the road, stand in the middle, and argue (the only difference between the Chinese driver and the American driver is that most American drivers move to the side of the road to argue).


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