Friday, September 15, 2006

You think U.S. traffic is bad?

It's 6:00 am Saturday here in Beijing and I have to talk about the traffic. We had to ride in a taxi twice yesterday - to and from the hutongs. The first time, Lisa, the kids, and I were all crammed into the back seat of a small car with our guide Xiao John (little John) tuned around talking to us the whole way, so I didn't pay as much attention to the madness going on all around us. The second time was rush hour and I was seated in the front seat. This is what I saw:

The road had lane markers, but that didn't seem to matter. Cars, busses, bikes and mototcycles just darted left and right squeezing into whatever space they could, and sometimes trying to fit where they couldn't. There was a bike lane on the right, but that didn't seem to matter either. The bike riders just flowed along with traffic, and when they needed to cross the road, just started to do it. I saw one woman riding a bike crossing the road against traffic, weaving in and out of moving cars, and I'm thinking "this woman's going to die!" But she didn't. And neither she or any of the drivers seemed worried or concerned or stressed. It's all part of life in this city. You drive with one hand on the wheel, and one holding a cell phone; one foot on the gas, and one foot on the brake. You can't imagine it untill you experience it.

Then, add to it my children, who had a good time laughing in the back seat on either side of Lisa, bouncing around with no seatbelts on (there were none), loudly calling each other "squatty potty" for the duration of the 45 minute cab ride from Hell. I imagine that the driver of the cab was wondering what they were saying over and over, and might go to his translation book to find the Chinese characters for squatty potty.

Speaking of Chinese characters, there were two really neat painters at the drum tower. One painted chinese landscapes with his fingers. He let Ryan (who was amazed by it) try it, which was nice. The other was a Chinese calligrapher, who would paint your name in Chinese. The kids watched her for a long time, so we bought one for Doug, Katie and Zoe. The total cost for these original paintings - 100RMB, which is about $12 US.

Lastly, I have to mention the rickshaws (bicycle cabs). In the hutong areas, they are everywhere, carrying tourists and locals alike. And they follow the same rules as the cars . . . none. Doug and I rode together and enjoyed it, but our driver ran into the rickshaw in front of us several times. At one point, our group of 7 richshaws got into a traffic jam in a hutong alley. We were going one way, while another group was coming toward us, and local residents were weaving in and out of us, either walking dogs, riding bikes, or getting in our way to try to sell us something. This, by the way, happened everywhere we went - peddlers walking up to us showing us their wares, saying "Look, look, you want. 20. 20. Look You want." Xiao John would sometimes say something abrupt to them and they would stop, but other times, we would just shake our heads. Xiao John said the peddlers know very little English - words like look, you want, here, good.

All of it is different, wild and really neat!


At 8:10 PM, Anonymous Ruth Ann Hepler said...

You are getting the real China experience! Sounds like your hutong tour was fabulous. We are really enjoying the posts and photos. Keep them coming!

At 8:21 PM, Anonymous Brian Hepler said...

Sounds like a fun trip so far. I liked the description of the traffic. I remember one close encounter in a cab when it was literally 2 inches from a major crash. Wait till you are in Hefei. You will probably squired around in bus and the bus drivers don't care about other people on the roads either, plus they are 5 times as big. I am looking forward to pictures from Hefei. Look for a silk shop and have a jacket made for yourselves.

At 8:07 AM, Anonymous Ray Murphree said...

I know what you mean about the traffic, taxis, bikes, etc. I spent a year in Bankock in the 60,s and it wasn't any better. The bigger your mode of trans, the better chance you have. Sounds like your are having a great time so far. Thanks for the updates. We will continue to keep everyone in our prayers.


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