I intended to write a continuously updating mini-series on living in China, specifically Wuhan, as a semi-foreigner but of course laziness (mostly laziness, though life itself had been hectic) wins. Oh, China. I’ve officially been living here for three and a half months and there was a whole lot that I’ve had to get used to. Let’s start with transportation, shall we.
Traffic and (the lack of) rules –> Survival of the fittest, fiercest, and fastest
OK. Where do I even start. The simplest way to put it is this: traffic is BEYOND CHAOTIC in China. I thought driving in Toronto was bad but realized that drivers in Toronto are tame little angels compared with drivers in China. Let’s just say that I’m going to delay the possibility of ever driving in China because well…I don’t want to die.
Wuhan is a Tier 2 city in China with one of the highest GDPs among the large Chinese urban centers. However, MUCH remains to be improved in terms of road conditions and safety. I WOULD talk about traffic regulations and driving etiquette and such…but wait, what regulations? What etiquette? Other than obeying the traffic lights (actually, bicycles, motorbikes, and pedestrians ignore them most of the time anyway), there aren’t really any strict… “rules”. What’s yielding? What’s signaling? What’s stopping? People will probably laugh at you and shrug it off if you suggest they do this because WHO HAS TIME TO SLOW DOWN, RIGHT!?!
To see it from another perspective, there’s nothing that you “can’t do”, in most cases. Going against the flow of traffic when you’re riding a bike or motorbike? NO PROBLEM! Just stay on the side of the outermost lane, be cautious, and you’ll probably be fine (don’t do this in a car…) No traffic light nearby and you need to cross a busy street? NO PROBLEM! When there is any sign of a gap between cars, JUST GO (preferably with a bunch of other people) and vehicles will reluctantly slow down or swerve around you as they approach. It takes guts and assertiveness, and the drivers WILL be reluctant, and pissed off, BUT IT WORKS and may be the only way to cross the road in some circumstances (unless you want to wait >15 minutes for a “safer” time to cross). The best comparison I can think of is playing a game of real-life Crossy Road (mobile app) where traffic is more random and not easily predictable as it is in the game. Life is a gamble – a potentially dangerous one if you live in Wuhan…
An “intersection” near my apartment, where road conditions are abysmal because of recent subway line constructions. That little gap where the scooter is – yep, that’s where you need to cross. It sometimes takes more than 5 minutes to get to the other side because of the absence of traffic lights, and no cars yield to bikes or pedestrians. Definitely harder than it seems during rush hour…
I think Charles Darwin has gotten it right when he developed the theory of “the survival of the fittest”. I, however, would like to extend this theory to what I call “the survival of the fittest, fiercest, and fastest” (the three Fs), with regards to living in Wuhan. The philosophy of “ME FIRST” dominates, and any consideration for other people will be looked upon as a weakness and a hindrance. Letting someone go in front of me? How abominable! Caring about the safety of others on the road? You’ve got to be kidding. In order to survive the chaos that is the roads of Wuhan, you’ve gotta practice the three Fs. It sounds cruel and that’s exactly it – it’s a cold, cruel world out here on the roads of Wuhan 😦
Get out of my way!
Another thing is that Chinese drivers honk a lot, whether it is on a car, scooter, or bicycle (ring, in this case). I’ve come to realize that it’s not necessarily a bad or rude behaviour – on the contrary, it is quite necessary. When I’m on a scooter and going behind a bike or pedestrian in a combined scooter/bike/pedestrian lane, I give a quick honk to let the person in front know that someone is behind and that I intend to pass. This allows them to shift slightly to the side and let me pass safely with sufficient space, avoiding a potential crash, and I don’t have to continue following super slowly. Same scenario when I’m on a scooter/bike and there’s a car behind me – I rather appreciate it when the driver lets me know by a honk that there’s someone behind me so I could be on the alert. In Toronto, honking is rare, but any time you hear a honk, it’s likely someone being pissed off at being cut off without warning or subjected to danger by irresponsible driving. Here, no one cares about signaling or safe passing or making sure that no one is behind when backing out, so you’re always in danger anyway, HARHAR. Then, honking here is more of a way to say, “Hey, be careful, there’s someone behind you” rather than “WTF man you !@*(##)@!!@#* jerk!” You kind of just learn to be more alert and react quicker, and somehow…we all manage to survive, which itself is a miracle.
Only at major intersections do bicycles, scooters, and pedestrians even consider following the traffic lights. Ready, set…GO!
Nah, I lied, most of the time honking is still the driver’s way of saying “Get the F*** out of my way or else suffer from the consequences of my wrath” (at least in the case of car/truck/large vehicle drivers). That epiphany hit me this morning as I was squeezed onto a crowded bus on a busy road, jammed to the max. The driver did not hesitate to show his aggressive temper as he continuously honked at the cars in front (some cutting lanes randomly) to get them to move, although I failed to see how it would have been possible to move as we were stuck at a red light. So yes, I completely contradicted what I said in the previous section by implying that people actually had consideration for others…too young, too naïve.
Bike-sharing is your best friend
Even if I were given the choice to drive in Wuhan, I think I would likely pass because the traffic jam would drive me insane before I got to my destination. Through traffic jams on local roads, bike-sharing is a godsend. I’ve seen bike-sharing programs in Canada and in Europe, but they’re not nearly as ubiquitous and useful as the ones in China. Scan the QR code of a bike that you could find anywhere on the street (unless you’re in a remote, undeveloped area), get to your destination, hop off, and lock the bike. It costs around 1 yuan, which is around 20 Canadian cents (even cheaper if you have a membership), per half hour, and the good thing is that you could drop off the bike anywhere you want. I find it to be exceptionally useful when I have to get home from the nearest bus station that has a direct bus to my workplace. I COULD change to another bus, but that requires extra wait time and more traffic. I could also walk home from the station, but it would take ~25 minutes. The solution, of course, is bike-sharing, and I usually have no problem finding a bike at the bus station where I get off. Cycling back home takes approximately 7 to 8 minutes, and I could almost LOL when I get to zoom past the traffic jam along the way by riding on the side lane and zigzagging a bit if necessary. When cars are stuck at an intersection for 10 minutes, I could fly past it in a jiffy and enjoy home-sweet-home, whereas if I drove…good luck making it home with unscathed sanity, Annie. Cycling also alleviates a bit of the heat because the way back home is on a slightly downward slope, and the wind acts as a significant de-stressor. That’s what you gotta do in China, find the little things that make life a bit less stressful and make the long day a little easier to endure.
Lots of bikes ready to be used outside my apartment. The most popular ones are Hellobike (blue), Mobike (orange), and ofo (yellow). Just scan one and go!
I would like to continue on the matter of transportation and getting around, but this post is getting too long. In a future post I will specifically talk about the public transit system in Wuhan (buses and subway), which really does warrant a discussion on its own. Hopefully the next post won’t take another three months to write…