Monday, August 4, 2014

Part D: Teaching in China - Driving in China? No way!

No way? For starters they drive on the wrong side of the road! 

... And why bother even thinking about it when in the large cities, taxis are inexpensive, the drivers use a meter and don't have a habit of ripping off the tourist. 
Driving and parking on the footpath.
Taxis are easy to hail; just step onto the road, extend your arm and waggle your fingers. If they have a green light on the roof they're available. Of course, you'll have thought ahead and will either have a map with the location you want to get to circled, or have asked someone to write the address down in Chinese. Your hotel business card will be tucked safely into your pocket so the return driver knows where to take you! Occasionally they'll refuse to take you to the address - perhaps it's too far, or they don't know the area - don't worry, there'll be another along soon who's happy for the fare.

I've been a passenger a number of times in private cars, tour cars and taxis, in different cities in China, and have observed some very big differences between driver habits in Australia and there. 

At first the traffic seems chaotic, with people driving on the wrong side of the road, riding e-bikes on the footpath, parking on the footpath, casually crossing double lines and tooting repeatedly. 
Learning to drive on the footpath at an early age! I asked permission to photograph this child, and dad, with the remote control firmly in hand was happy to oblige.
But when observed over a few days it settles into a pattern. On the whole, tooting is not aggressive, it's to alert another driver that you're there or overtaking. Drivers are occasionally pushy, particularly in the larger cities, but rarely show the overt, nasty and aggressive overtone, complete with foul abuse and rude hand gestures that is prevalent in Australia.
Remind me again.
Which lane goes in which direction?
The word “accepting” came to mind. As if drivers understand and accept that a taxi will stop at the curb waiting for passengers to fill the seats with parcels, and people need to get settled before setting off. Drivers give way. Driving with alcohol in your system is illegal so our drivers didn't drink at all. They don’t (on the whole) push in, determined to be first, to show who’s more powerful or more of a bully. They generally don't speed. Of course there are exceptions to all observations, but it's common to see and experience foul rudeness and dangerous driving within minutes of getting into a car in Australia (at least in Melbourne it is).
Well organised chaos.
It takes a while to get used to e-bikes being ridden, and to cars being parked on footpaths. E-bikes in particular are a challenge because they're silent and you don't know they're coming. In Xuzhou, it was common to see people wandering along the centre of the road texting, gazing into the air and completely ignoring the tonnes of metal whizzing past, with complete indifference. It works. I don't know how, but it does. Don't try this at home people! 
Learning to stroll in to the middle of the road with the locals. 
It's best to just shrug your shoulders and embrace the difference with a smile and (attempt) to act like a local. 
Great little 3 wheeled taxis. Apparently driven by disabled people.
It's no wonder that Chinese drivers get a bad reputation when they presume that similar courtesies are practised in Australia! It's not that they're necessarily poor drivers, I suspect it's that we're far ruder and less tolerant on the roads.
Hire bikes are common, and seemingly everywhere.

E-bikes and clothing sheltering from the rain.
Tianzifang. Shanghai.

The adoption of electric bicycles, scooters and larger bikes over the years has made a massive difference to the levels of pollution. It's now possible to walk along many major streets without gagging in the fumes. Of course there's still a long way to go, but they've made huge inroads. C'mon Australia we're being left behind!

My previous posts about Teaching in China were our Arrival, Banquets,  Culture and comfort foods . The next one will be about Exercise.



Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue - it's being prepared to work out what's happening - over a few days ... as you did: then you'd have some idea of the rules and laxity around ... fascinating to read how and why ..

Great to see all the bicycles - heaven knows what happens when they can all afford cars!!

Cheers Hilary

Sue Travers said...

Hi Hilary, I think many people will still prefer electric scooters, especially in cities. They're far more economical!
cheers Sue