Archive for April, 2010
Having recently alerted my readers to the dangers of road safety in China, many must be feeling that the safest option is rely on others to transport you around.
Indeed at first glance there are a wealth of public transport options, ranging from quaint sedan chairs and pedalos, up to sophisticated trains and airplanes. All of these share the same purpose; to transport you as dangerously as possible to a location of your choosing for the maximum possible price.
Being somewhat overweight, I am always hesitant to subject the poor pedalo rider to the arduous task of lugging me anywhere. This is despite the fact that in China I have seen entire villages being carried on a single bicycle.
The advantages of Pedalos is that they are environmentally friendly and they also allow you to fling a few coins the way of a person whose annual income is less than the cost of a packet of cereal. The disadvantage is that it would often be quicker to travel to your destination by pogo stick.
Believe it or nor in some places these still exist. Usually, they are used to haul people up mountains. But if you’re considering this as an option, you can piss off and read some other site Princess.
Before you decide to take a trip with a motorcycle taxi, please take the time to ask yourself the following questions.
“How far am I travelling?”
“Is there another method of getting there?”
“Is my medical insurance up to date?”
“Is the driver limping for any particular reason?”
If, after answering these questions, you still decide to take a motorcycle taxi, then good luck. My prayers are with you.
Taxis are a mixed bag. Most drivers are friendly and efficient. Others are surly and dishonest and a few are insane and deadly.
There are no compulsory seatbelt laws in China and most taxi drivers will take offense if you attempt to wear one as they consider it an insult to their driving abilities. This is the case regardless of whether the taxi driver actually has driving abilities or not.
There are a few other problems with taxis. For example, most drivers don’t speak English, or indeed any other language known to linguists.
There is also no guarantee that the taxi will know anymore about where you want to go than you do.
The quality of the taxis depend on the city in which you are trying to catch them. In Shanghai and Hangzhou, they are usually fairly modern Hyundais. In Ningbo it’s the ubiquitous VW Santana.
It seems to be a general rule that the smaller the town, the crappier the taxi. In one town, I saw a three wheel car pick up a passenger, drive twenty metres down the road and proceed to lose one of its wheels. Sadly, the wheel travelled about three times the distance of the actual taxi ride.
The one saving grace is that the taxis are cheap. A 1 hour taxi ride in China costs roughly the same amount as a single strawberry in Japan.
After 10 years of travel, it is easy to become jaded about the miracle that is powered flight. This technological marvel is not, however, lost on the Chinese. On a recent flight to Hunan province, there were gasps of astonishment as the plane took off and half the passengers broke into spontaneous applause.
As a general indication of the safety of Chinese Airlines, the logo of Air China is supposed to be a phoenix; a mythical bird famous for its tendency to explode in flames at the slightest provocation.
Chinese airline transport is not exactly what you would call luxurious either. On a recent 12 hour Air China flight to Canada, the in-flight entertainment options consisted of:
1. looking out the windows at clouds
2. reading the inflight magazine; and
3. idly calculating the chances that your pilot has been trained in aeronautics rather than, say, agricultural machinery.
Next week, we’ll look at buses and trains in China
Additionally, I shall now be placing up random images on the site. There probably won’t be any humorous comments but I’ve got so many of the damn things I’ve got to use them somewhere.
1. Pedestrians should:
a) Have right of way
b) Be avoided at all costs to prevent damage to human life
c) Be avoided at all costs to prevent damage to your vehicle
d) Provide a handy cushion between your car and other, more solid objects
2. You are riding an e-bike and you see the following sign.
a) Merge with traffic in the left lane as you are on a powered vehicle
b) Merge with the bicycles in the left lane as you are technically a bicycle
c) Check which lane has the least traffic and choose that one
d) Mount the pavement and beep your horn for pedestrians get out of your way, hit an old lady, steal her handbag and ride off into the sunset
3. What is the correct procedure for approaching a 4 way intersection?
a) Check mirror, slow down, look right and left and then proceed at half speed.
b) Check mirror, speed up and pass the intersection as quickly as possible
c) 100 metres from intersection, sound your horn and continue to sound it until passing through the intersection at full speed
d) Close eyes, pray, open eyes 30 seconds later (or never again depending on success of prayers)
3. When should you be most worried by the approach of this man?
a) When you have committed a parking offense
b) When you have committed a drving offence
c) When you are a blogger and are writing bad things about China
d) When this man is short of cash
4. What is the minimum safe distance you should leave between 2 cars when travelling at 60km/h?
d) It depends which way the other car is travelling
5. Who has the right of way in this picture?
a) the e-bike
b) the truck
c) a bus, 50m away but closing fast
d) the driver with the most money
6. You’ve had an accident.
a) Pull your vehicle as far as possible to the side of the road to cause minimum inconvenience to other road users, exchange details and call a repair truck.
b) Do a runner
c) Leave your vehicle in the middle of the road, exit and immediately blame the other person whether it was their fault or not
d) As c) and then wait for the police to whom both drivers will pay a hefty bribe.
7. What are the main transgressions in this picture?
a) The girl need to put away the umbrella
b) The girl needs to get a better boyfriend
b) The rider needs sturdy shoes and a helmet
c) The rider needs a life
8. This sign is used to:
a) Indicate there are roadworks ahead and you should slow to 40km/h
b) Indicate that there are roadworks ahead for the next 40km
c) Indicate that workers are clearing away 40 years worth of horse poo
d) Make Ningbo look pretty
9. You see the following traffic light.
Who should stop?
a) People going straight
b) People turning left
c) People who value their lives
d) People in vehicles smaller than yours.
10. In which of the following streets is it possible for a car to attempt a u-turn?
11. Who is in the wrong in the following picture?
a) The taxi – he is overtaking in a city zone
b) The parked car – he has not full pulled out of the way of traffic
c) The Polo – He is in the taxi’s way
d) The pedestrians – They are using up valuable driving space
What was this before it tried to cross the road in China?
How to score:
If you have managed to circle any of the answers then I am afraid that you are far too sane to drive in China. Please bang your head against the wall for three hours a day and apply again next year.
Having grown up in a country where we drive on the correct side of the road (i.e. the left), I invariably find it difficult arriving in a country where the right is right.
An afternoon walk in such places usually results in me returning to my point of origin with tyre marks on my shoes, a broken arm and a moped parked between my buttocks.
It was therefore with some trepidation that I approached two years of life in China.
Fortunately, although the law states the right side is correct in China, Chinese drivers are above such petty laws as “left” and “right” and regularly make use of both sides of the road. Indeed, they also seem to be above petty laws such as “physics”, and it is not uncommon to see two cars inhabiting the same space / time co-ordinates.
Lanes aren’t the only rules that are optional in China. Traffic lights are mainly used for decoration and pedestrian crossings are about as safe to cross as temple floors in an Indiana Jones movie. I would honestly feel more safe crossing the road in a game of “Grand Theft Auto”
Indeed, for the first five months of life in China, I would only cross the road if I could position a Chinese person between myself and oncoming traffic, hoping that if a car hit them it would at least stop before it reached me.
Speed limits are also optional. For example, below the apartments in which I live, the following sign has been placed to slow drivers down.
Now, my mathematics is utterly appalling, but even I am able to calculate that 5 km/s works out to be 18,000 km/h or, roughly, mach 15.
Now many of you may think that this is a printing mistake on behalf of the sign makers, but I assure you that there are drivers over here who fully believe they are capable of maintaining these speeds safely…
In a 14 year old Toyota…
In a built up area…
On the wrong side of the road…
Whilst talking on a mobile phone
I would like to say that despite this, accidents are rare, but unfortunately that simply isn’t true. Within my first 6 months in China, I had already seen four dead bodies as the result of crashes.
Drivers in Ningbo quite proudly proclaim, “if you can drive here, you can drive anywhere in the world”. While a noble sentiment, this is somewhat erroneous. If you tried to drive like you do in Ningbo anywhere else in the world, you would either be arrested 15 seconds after setting off, or crash into the first bus who didn’t realize you were going to jump onto the wrong side of the road.
Traffic conditions aren’t helped by the presence of the ubiquitous electric bicycle, or “e-bike. These little Chinese mopeds weave in and out of traffic, giving their riders the life expectancy of a Mayfly with terminal cancer. Riders of these e-bikes have obviously achieved some sort of advanced human/machine hybrid state, as they feel confident in using roads, bicycle lanes and footpaths, all with equal impunity.
Anyway, I hope you have been studying all this carefully, because next week there will be a Chinese driving test.