Annie Bananie en Europe

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Living in Wuhan – Really annoying public transit behaviours

Having already written a post about transportation in Wuhan, I didn’t think that I’d write another related post so soon. However, there are so many public transit pet peeves that frustrate me in Wuhan that I feel a need to write about them (i.e. bitch and complain about every single annoyance). I’m not even going to include things like the lack of queues the need to be the first one to get on the bus/train/subway, which seem to be universally accepted (at least in China). If I line up, I’m the one that’s not normal…I get that. But the following are behaviours I feel that would (should?) annoy every person that regularly relies on public transit (including long-distance trains and shared bikes) to get around. And I’m not only talking about passenger behaviour – drivers, too, contribute to much of the irritation. People who have been doing this for years will probably call me a petty and whiny foreigner – sure, call me that, if you could tell that I’m a foreigner!!! Anyway, this isn’t a happy post. I might write about the ups of public transit in Wuhan in another post, but let’s get the annoyances out of the way first.

Not obeying the “alight first, then board” rule. What may seem like universal common sense is not so common here. No matter how many announcements are made and how many posters are displayed, nobody ever seems to get this, making this the #1 frustration for me when I take the subway. And this is especially obvious for subways because you get on and off via the same doors, whereas for buses, you (usually) board by the front and alight from the back. The general phenomenon is that before you even get a chance to get off, people waiting by the platform are already packing their way in, regardless of whether the train is empty of crowded to the max. Solution: push and shove and squeeze furiously or you’ll probably never get OFF the subway at your stop…

Queues do not exist in Wuhan and this is as good as it gets.

Not moving inward on a crowded bus. OK, we’re all taking public transit in a shared space and everyone is grumpy and struggling. However, getting on at an earlier stop does NOT entitle you to extra space. If there are ten people trying to get on and there’s actually maneuverable space in the middle of the bus, THEN PLEASE MOVE IN. If you don’t, then I’ll get my ass on the bus and squeeze to that empty spot, no matter how crowded it is. In China, no bus is TOO crowded to a point that one person cannot get on – there are only people who are unwilling to move. Why don’t we switch places and let you see what it’s like to try to squeeze on? Be a little considerate toward your fellow travellers, please.

Not getting your QR code ready for boarding. QR scanning has become more common and convenient than public transit cards but it’s got its downsides. In particular, some people find it necessary to wait till the second they get on the bus to open up the app on their phone and retrieve their QR code. If you’re the only or final person getting on a bus that’s not so crowded, then fine, take your time getting that QR code to show up. But if there are 15 people behind you and the bus is hella crowded already, AND YOU SAW THE BUS COMING, then GET THE DAMN CODE READY BEFORE YOU BOARD to avoid blocking everyone else, or wait till everyone else has boarded. IS THIS TOO MUCH TO ASK FOR???

Putting private locks on public bikes. This one REALLY pisses me off but unfortunately it’s not uncommon. Around my work place, shared bikes are already scattered and scarce, so any available one is usually taken immediately. As I walk from the bus station to my work place (about a 15-minute walk), I regularly see two or three unused “shared” bikes and at first I was curious why no one took them. It wasn’t until I got closer and tried to use one that I saw that they were restricted by private locks while being blatantly parked on the sidewalk. OH SO THAT’S WHY no one could ride them. I believe they’re not abandoned because occasionally they disappear after work and reappear the next morning, so I think that the lock owners are indeed working around the same area. But really, how selfish can you get…-_- Ugh. I am not wishing for an altruistic society but this type of selfish behaviour is rage-inducing, to say the least. Sometimes I want to stay around and see who the culprits are and give them the evil eye. Worse yet, I wished I had a tool that would break the locks so that I could take the bike – fighting evil with evil, not exactly the best strategy but would at least release some of the spite.

A not-so-public public “shared” bike that has been so conveniently “claimed” by someone who feels that he/she is more entitled to use public property than everyone else…

Blocking the road with a public bike. One advantage of bike-sharing is that you could literally leave the bike anywhere you want but…could you at least park it in an area that DOES NOT BLOCK THE BIKE LANE OR CAUSE TROUBLE FOR OTHER PEOPLE. Ugh. Writing this post makes me so frustrated and I’m going to have a heart attack soon…

Internal organ damage. SPEAKING OF HEART ATTACKS, some bus drivers take aggressive driving to the next level. I applaud them for making a bus ride on a normal, flat road feel like a rollercoaster ride. Granted, the roads may not be in the best of conditions, but that still doesn’t explain how incredibly shaky and bumpy the ride gets sometimes. I wouldn’t be surprised if I get internal hemorrhage one of these days. Oh, and it seems like some drivers are always in a rush. Not only do they constantly sound the honk, but one tried to close the door BEFORE I even finish getting off the bus. There was one instance where my foot was still on the step and the door closed behind me and the bus started moving…eh?????

Honking for the sake of honking. On the subject of honking, I wrote previously that I appreciate gentle reminders in the form of a short honk, but some drivers find joy in infiltrating the city with noise pollution by honking every two seconds. Does it sound like music to your ears? Do you think that the person in front of you who is in the same traffic jam as you are, would be able to move one inch because you are abusing the honk? Maybe it is therapeutic, I don’t know. Do as you wish, I guess, but the amount of noise does make an already distracting environment much more dislikeable…

General disregard for safety: NOT UNDERSTANDING THE PURPOSE OF HAVING EYES. This one isn’t specifically related to public transit, per se. One would think that before a pedestrian crosses the street, he would look both ways to make sure that no vehicle is coming his way. WRONG. More than a dozen times my boyfriend and I, while riding the motor bike, have encountered people glued to their phones while walking OR WHILE RIDING A BIKE. I think you could imagine how frustrating it is when they suddenly appear in front of us with no warning, because their eyes weren’t on the road or they just assume that the busy road belongs entirely to them. And this is how people DIE on the road through no one’s fault but their own, yet they still find it more important to reply to a message or play a game. People. Make life easier for the rest of us (and potentially yourself) by putting away your phone for one damn second while you’re on the road, PLEASE.

Some other unpleasant behaviours that reflect general disregard for the comfort/convenience of fellow passengers on trains and buses include playing music/movies/games at max volume without headphones and blocking the bus or train aisle with bags that could be put on your lap. I realize that this is the way that things have been, are, and probably will be (for some more years to come) here in China (at least in Wuhan) and in no way am I saying that people should change to accommodate me. In fact, I being the one integrating into a new environment should be the one to adapt. However, I think I still have the right to express frustration, so don’t flame me for venting. At the end of the day, you still do what you gotta do and catch that early bus 913 to get to work. Run, bus, run…just don’t hit the motorbike that’s 1 cm away from you!!

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Living in Wuhan – Transportation and getting around

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…

Streets of Louvain-la-Neuve

I’ve been back in Bordeaux for three weeks and while it is nice to be back in the city I love, I’ve gotta admit that I kinda miss Louvain-la-Neuve.

Hmm, how did this happen? Louvain-la-Neuve, not just a campus, but barely a real city. I didn’t like it much when I first stepped into Louvain-la-Neuve, that much was certain. The place felt more like a trap than a comfortable place to live.

It took a while to discover the charm hidden within, a process that required living there for a few months at a time and frequent absence. Gradually I found myself starting to like Louvain-la-Neuve more and more as I found ways to enjoy the “city”, as I took delight in the small, unique things that surprise me.

So, after having written about the streets of Bordeaux, I feel that it is only fair to dedicate a post to the streets of Louvain-la-Neuve 😉

On an unsuspecting Saturday afternoon, if I am not out and about travelling to nearby cities, I like to take slow strolls around Louvain-la-Neuve. Although the area of the place itself is not big, there are so many hidden corners that I seem to have missed during my walks that I slowly discover one by one. It’s always fun to get lost, then find my way again.

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