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.

We also take random photos of traffic oddities over time.  You might get a smile like we do.

Wǒ de qìchē hěn hǎo!

I am impressed with the cars in China.  Before moving here, I expected to see a lot of tiny, Smart-Car-esque vehicles.  So many cars, so little space – that was my impression.  When we arrived, I was a bit shocked at the full-size sedans, but especially shocked at the quality.  Mercedes, BMW, Volvo, Audi, Porsche and more. There are so many black Audis with tinted windows that I expect the Transporter to step out of one someday. (Expect, or hope?)  And it is a beautiful surprise, though no longer out of the ordinary, to see a Bentley in front of the hotel across the street.  The doormen laugh seeing this foreigner pull out her camera when a Carrera or Rolls are parked in the drive. The first time I saw a Lincoln Navigator and Cadillac Escalade, it was a “what the hell!?” moment.  And the Lamborghini in front of the Ritz last week in Shanghai  – there were no words.  Rest assured, I wasn’t the only one checking it out.

I don’t mean to leave out the usual suspects.  There are plenty of Honda, Toyota, VW, Nissan level of vehicle too.  Then add in the Jin Bei’s and other Chinese and Korean marks that, as Americans, we don’t recognize.  Since status is so important in China, most of these gorgeous cars are new.  It has been said that a Chinese person will save up in order to walk in and pay cash for their new vehicle.  Yeah, how many yuan for that X5?

Don’t get me wrong – you can still tell that you’re in a foreign country.  Delivery trucks and vans have that cute boxy shape.  Deliveries are also made by pedal or electric bicycle carts.  Taxis, bicycles and mopeds are everywhere.  City buses too, and the subway is coming in another year or so.  Sometimes you can even see district taxis that look like Thai tuk-tuks.  And though, unfortunately, I have no photographic evidence at this time, it is no longer a surprise to see a donkey pulling a cart on a main road.

With this blog subject, I expect you might have questions about vehicle, gas and maintenance costs.  Actually, I have no idea.  You can Google it as well as I can.  According to a July article, it lists Beijing at $3.71 a gallon, so it is probably a little less here.  I could go on and on, comparing GDP per capita ($6000 vs US $46,000) and average incomes; I don’t mean to start anything. 

I just want to show you these fabulous cars!