Looking in the wrong direction

Posted on May 29, 2012

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“Look in the opposite direction to the oncoming traffic” doesn’t sound like the best piece of advice you could give someone about to cross an eight lane road in the middle of Beijing, but it’s surprisingly effective.  The theory is that by showing the oncoming traffic you’re not paying any attention, the onus is with them – and, at the speed people tend to drive out here, it works.

The chaos at every intersection is laugh out loud funny.  Bikes happily scoot along in the narrow, fenced off cycle lanes, diving and weaving, avoiding head-on collisions narrowly and constantly as they insist on riding against the flow of traffic; pedestrians dash across wherever there’s a gap – and often where no gap exists; taxis and cars whirl round unexpectedly, pulling U-turns galore whilst trolley buses plough the only predictable courses, governed by the wires overhead.

As for the traffic cops – well, they look on as bemused as the rest of us.

It’s frenetic, certainly, but there are very few accidents, and very few raised voices because the almost chaos is the norm.

And that’s part of the fun of China.  Somewhere hovering overhead there may be rules and guides for people to follow, but in so many aspects of life, there’s enough freedom for people to go off-piste, to ad lib, to try something different.  They spot a gap, and they go for it.  And, if they have the persistence and the right tools, they have every chance to succeed – especially if everyone else is looking the other way.

A note of caution, however.  I heard a story recently of one Beijinger who had taken their car off the road whilst waiting for it to be repaired.  There was nothing wrong with the engine, however, nor with the brakes, transmission, tyres or any of the normal parts that might cause a western driver to park it in the garage.  No, the reason that the car was undrivable was because the horn had stopped working.

Sometimes, it seems, the tools that you think you need to exploit a gap in one country, can be very different in another.

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Posted in: Beijing, China