One of the craziest things about living in China is the traffic. In a country with 1.5 billion people and an estimated 62 million+ vehicles on the road, it is certainly something to watch. That’s a recent USA Today statistic, quoting the number from 2009. They also wrote that the US had 254 million passenger vehicles in 2007.
You might have seen or read something this summer about a 10-day traffic jam outside of Beijing. You can Google that to find out more, and decide for yourself how much information was exaggerated. I also recommend looking a Wikipedia’s file on China traffic laws. It was there I learned that the right of way in China is given to whoever is first (basically). So that’s why they are constantly merging and cutting in front of others. WikiTravel actually says that the best traffic rule in China is don’t hit anything, and don’t get hit by anything.
On a daily basis, we might not experience a lengthy traffic jams, but we do see enough craziness. After all, an approved U turn in some intersections is from the far right lane, including for buses. We’ve been in taxis when the driver didn’t want to wait in line at the light, so he used the nearest open lane of oncoming traffic to pass 10 or 15 cars. Interestingly enough, they seem to be able to time it perfectly with the light. Tim has seen donkeys pulling delivery carts on the ring road (interstate). Chinese drivers also have a unique use of what we used to call the California rolling stop; the unique part being that they don’t really slow down to make a right turn. And most Westerners never get used to the incessant honking. Most drivers don’t use their mirrors or blinkers, so the horn is an announcement to other drivers, bicycle riders, pedestrians, etc. During the daytime, t is not uncommon for me to hear 10 or 20 second honking speeches from cars on the street below our apartment. The honking is annoyingly interesting, but they seem to have some sort of body language with their cars as well. How would a foreigner learn that?
Recently, the Mayor of Shenyang, or some other honored party official, announced 100 days of traffic vigilance. When I first saw the sign, I laughed. (The traffic signs are in Chinese characters and English.) But after a couple of weeks, I actually noticed a difference. Police officers appeared in all the major intersections. Drivers would stay in proper lanes rather than make 6 columns of cars in 4 actual lanes. There was a slight reduction in the honking. And taxi drivers actually wait in a lane through the traffic lights.
Despite all this craziness, I miss driving and wish that I could do that here. I think I have been here long enough to figure most things out and could do it, but the company doesn’t make any concessions for helping us get our license or drive. I’ve read about how to get a Chinese drivers license; either pay for it in Hong Kong or take the translated test here in Shenyang. We’ll see.
I will note here that I first thought about this blog subject months ago, in good weather. We had quite a lot of snow today that iced over the streets, and we watched the no-fear techniques of drivers, bicyclists and even those maneuvering public buses. It was an intersting dance going on 10 floors down on Wu Ai Jie. Here is a short video of our traffic view on that street from a few months ago. It was an interesting night. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ItEkLM6OD0
We also take random photos of traffic oddities over time. You might get a smile like we do.