I Can't Get Past the Driving

I Can't Get Past the Driving
sethbarham.esl Feb 13, 2014 21:42

What can I say about the driving here? Well. Cracks knuckles. ARRRGGGGHHH. Sorry, that was my pent-up inner monologue from the past 5 months escaping. The driving in China is something that – on any given day – never fails to infuriate me on a small level, even after generally enjoying myself here for the past 5 months. I wouldn’t blame this entirely on China, however. I’m a pretty scrupulous driver back in the States. If you’re going too fast you’re a douchebag; too slow, an idiot. I guess, ironically, that would make me an asshole. Equipped with that knowledge of my vehicular hubris, any laowai reading this can imagine how quick I am to anger here.


Pedestrians have the right to get out of the way.


As a walker – that’s a person without a two-ton machine with wheels, not a zombie – you have no sacred ground here. Don’t even look at your feet (a necessity during the winter) lest you look back up to find you have roughly 0.3 seconds to get out of the way of some tool driving his SUV on the sidewalk. I’m not sure, but I think the way it works is that if your car is big enough, then you have an unwritten amendment to your license that allows you to go anywhere you want.


Pedestrian lights are just decorations here. While waiting for your (nonexistent) window to cross the street, you’ll notice vehicles going right, left and sometimes straight on red. Basically you’re your best judge. Wading through traffic is an art form and you’ll just have to use the elderly Chinese woman beside you, walking through the rush-hour as your shield until you perfect it yourself.


When you do decide to start throwing caution to the wind and just adopt the Chinese method for crossing the street whenever the hell you can, take a look at the oncoming traffic. Just briefly; don’t die. You’ll notice that instead of slowing down, or even just getting into the next lane to avoid you, they start heading toward you. It’s almost as if they’re trying to beat you to it, until the last possible second when there just isn’t enough space between you and the other side of the street to make it through without hitting you.


Take a look at this excerpt from the Wikipedia article on China’s convoluted right-of-way. You can’t make this up.


Compared to the western understanding of right-of-way, which refers to the legal right to proceed forward in a vehicle without fear of being found at fault for causing a collision, right-of-way in China means, for all intents and purposes, that the person who is in the way (first) has the right. In practice, this translates into motorists and cyclists turning or merging straight into the path of other traffic believing that the onus is on the other person to avoid a collision.


That’s almost akin to me blindly merging into peak traffic because it’s the unlucky soul in the other lane’s problem. Oh wait…that’s exactly what it is. So, this is the “system” that some apologetic expats will tell you “kind of works”. A free-for-all. A battle royale of aluminum, steel and meat-bags. Who will win?


The Data


Metal wins. This data from the World Health Organization bears it out. I do actually like to back up my vitriolic rants with facts here at Spartan Wanderer so I don’t seem like the drunkest, oldest guy at the expat bar. The most impassioned cultural relativist argument can’t stand up to the numbers that declare that even India has safer roads than China – a fact my girlfriend couldn’t believe after having travelled their for 6 months.


This isn’t because Chinese people are inherently bad drivers. All developing nations in the thrust of rapid industrialization are responsible for a high amount of traffic fatalities due to poor infrastructure that can’t keep up with the purchasing power of a new middle class desiring vehicular status symbols with little to no knowledge of how to actually use them. The US and Europe have had years and years to develop good traffic laws and niceties on the road while the Chinese middle class has only just arrived. Road manners haven’t had time to develop.


But what about the police?


Hahahahaha, that’s so cute! Three months in, I was flabbergasted (don’t get to use that word very often) to see a police officer directing traffic. Toilet paper and oranges were on sale at the local mall, so naturally, chaos ensued. It was the first time I had seen the police actually doing something. I even did a double-take. There are large arrays of traffic cameras at every light, designed to photograph and automatically fine traffic-violations, but in several cities these “cameras” are no more than a flash attached to a motion sensor. Even if the police were motivated to do more, China is a communist country in name only. For all practical purposes, the government is a plutocratic/kleptocratic oligarchy, meaning anyone with the money or connections can run red-lights at 100 mph all day long without fear of retribution.


The most dangerous people on the road are…


Women driving luxury vehicles. No, really. Daqing is an oil city, and one of the most affluent in China despite it having only been around since 1959. I’ve never seen such a high concentration of beamers, mercs and jags in my life. I saw my first Bentley here. And of course there are plenty of douche-mobile Hummers. If you have the money to put yourself in one of those, then you also have the funds to put your wife in a matching one. No license? No problem. This is China; if you have the money and the guanxi (friends in high places), then your wife has an Audi and a license to terrorize everyone else on the road.


About the photo…


I’ve seen maybe four or five accidents, just bump-ups, from our apartment window. We’ll be going about our business, planning lessons, writing, being a lazy slob on a Netflix binge after a night at Kingsley’s thenSCREEECH CRASH! Then they get out and stand beside their cars for 2+ hours and wait for police/insurance company. This taxi driver in particular decided to try and avoid a busy intersection beside our place and cut through the hospital parking lot. Fair enough; even I do that at home sometimes. But the trick is to not continue going at 50 mph, which he did do (obviously) and now he will pretty much certainly lose his livelihood for hitting a BMW, likely owned by someone important. Or rich. Doesn’t matter. It’s harsh, but yeah…slow down.




The takeaway: the driving pisses me off here, it’s objectively worse than back home, but it’s because of rapid industrialization, not because Asian-driver jokes are true.


That felt good.

Tags:Language & Culture Expat Rants & Advice Expat Tales Lifestyle


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I think Chinese traffic is quite ok, if you compare it to other countries. In fact people in every country are complaining about the traffic situation and other drivers. There is an ancient saying that goes like, the worlds most horrible drivers are always in the country you currently reside.

Apr 08, 2014 13:55 Report Abuse



I ride a mt bike I use it as my transport to get to work and home,people on electric bikes ride at you,people on bikes ride on the same side of the road but the opposite way and they dont move out of the way. I have almost been hit off my bike by some driver who is using his mobile phone while driving.I do get a little road rage.I know it does not do me any good.here is Shenzhen everyone does what they want to do there is no driver courtesy or bike courtesy.

Mar 31, 2014 09:25 Report Abuse



Two days ago I got picked up by a lovely, well educated young lady in her 2-door BMW, to go out for dinner in a local hot pot restaurant she knew. She systematically did EVERY SINGLE horrific thing mentioned here, expect actually crash or kill anyone. We were talking about flight MH370, and I mentioned that it was more dangerous to drive to an airport than to actually fly. She laughed and said yes yes, that's perhaps true... (as she almost side-swiped a huge construction truck). I have NO desire to actually drive here myself, especially after that, and reading this post. Dinner was nice by the way...

Mar 27, 2014 13:57 Report Abuse



Yes, I agree with the author 100%. I was talking about this issue with a Chinese friend yesterday. The fact that middle class families have had cars for half a century on the West is really the difference. We have the culture to know how to drive and be polite. Anyway, most of the Chinese drivers just bought their first car. That is why they dont understand many things like road courtesy. Before I though people do not yielded because my car was small. But after driving an Audi Q7 is the same thing... it seems that it hurts to yield or let other car pass first. Even though he cant get ahead more than 10 meters.

Mar 23, 2014 09:43 Report Abuse



Let's not glorify the 'politeness' of western driving. Yes, they understand road rules a bit better and are outwardly more well-behaved, but AFAIK, traffic mishaps in the west are an excellent forum for office workers in cars to vent their pent-up rage. Fortunately, they'll moderate their behaviour and it rarely affects their driving. But I wouldn't speak of *politeness* when I'm sitting next to a driver hissing and cussing his way down the road.

Mar 23, 2014 13:37 Report Abuse



I've enjoyed reading this as I see some of the examples quoted every day when I drive the 60k round trip to work and back. I've been driving here for just over 2 years now, not in a flash car but in a little Lifan 320 (Mini Copy with a 1.3L engine). The most arrogant, thinking they can go anywhere, are the Audi and BMW drivers but they are also the first ones to yield when I flash my lights, hit the horn and cut in front of them as they are scared of scratching their expensive cars. I don't care in my little shed that cost 45,000 kuai compared to their mega-bucks. When i go back to the UK I'm a careful, considerate driver, here? I drive Chinese style with extra umph! I still indicate & use mirrors but the 1.3L engine in my "mini" allows me to whizz in and out of traffic almost at ease. I'm still continually amazed at the inept, inconsiderate, ignorant drivers & brain dead pedestrians here. a couple of examples. Pedestrians - was driving home today on a 4 lane, fast flowing road & turned off into a 2 lane slip-road, I'm in th einsde lane (right side) with a car on my outside. I go round a slight bend and can see, 50 meters ahead a young couple, stood in the middle of my lane waiting to cross. I can't move out to avoid them so initially flash my lights at them, no movement so I hit the horn once, still they stand there, so eventually, while slowing down just in case, I hit the horn while still flashing at them. Only at the very last minute do they realise that they are actually in my way and step back, bloody idiots (I am ready to brake by the way, just in case they didn't move). Cars/Taxis/Wagons/Buses/Coaches. A couple of examples just from today....road is 4 lanes wide, most vehicles doing 70-80kmh until we come across a taxi in the 2nd lane who was crawling along at about 40...causing all other traffic to bunch-up. Earlier on the journey I'm whizzing along over and undertaking when I notice a big vehicle in my rear view mirror coming up fast (Yes, I actually know war my read view mirror is for!). Turns out its a 52 seater coach trying to get past everything in its way. I change leans left to undertake, I notice it going out to over take. this goes on for 5-10 minutes, me watching this guy intently as I know that at his first opportunity he's going to try to squeeze past me. For my own sake i slowed up and let him in front, only to watch him then whizz in and out of the next couple of vehicles at breakneck speeds. Glad i wasn't one of his passengers! Wagons, you know the sort, over-loaded, tyres worn down to the metal, etc. They come onto the road from the right and go straight out into the 2nd lane band then tootle along at about 40.....to thence over-taken by another wagon who can just manage 45-50...meaning two of the 4 lanes are now blocked for 5 minutes as the slightly faster one overtakes. In the meantime the inside right lane is EMPTY! I've learned over time that this is my lane. 95%+ of Chinese drives, when entering a main road immediately head out to the 2nd lane, even if the inside one is empty. So me? I generally stick to the inside lane, taking care when passing side roads as I know I'll have a relatively free road compared to the other lanes, especially when one of th slow wagons is hogging the outside left pan at 40kmh. One of these days I'm going to buy myself a dash cam.......I could fill up a youtube channel of bad Chinese driving within a week or two (and have evidence for the eventual day when someone clips me, fortunately, in 2 years I've not had that misfortune yet).

Mar 20, 2014 22:29 Report Abuse



Well done that man. That's the first blog Ihave enjoyed in a long time. Give yourself a pat on the back.

Mar 20, 2014 11:54 Report Abuse



waiting 2 hours plus for the police, that is so true and so very annoying. Getting hit on a crossing and forced to wait for that long when in a rush, penalises people who actually walk. Best to get hit and then run so you don't have to deal with the senseless, mindless, racist and childish behavour of drivers that believe they are in the chariot of the gods.... If anyone is bored and has air plugs, cause it will get loud, toot toot, consider going to an intersection at rush hour and just watch the traffic. It is so funny to see how inept drivers are and how intersections can basically become parking lots. If you are lucky you might get to watch as the police enforce the laws and avoid seeing those that blatantly break laws in front of them. You gotta laugh or cry, depends on the day really

Mar 19, 2014 11:03 Report Abuse



Thought I would hate this but LOL. Yea, 'right of way' - Wiki nailed it. Maybe 'get out of my way'. Like you said, steel rules the roads here. Well done.

Mar 19, 2014 02:52 Report Abuse



I love when poor people blame the traffic situations on rich people. Everything is squarley rich peoples fault. Have you ever driven in China? And more than just taking your friends car around the block in an empty area. As someone who has spent years as both a pedestrian and a driver. I have a different take. Its all the poor peoples fault. Every intersection is a brush with jail or the poor house and every scooter moto or bike on the road is an immediate threat as well. I myself for the first few months tried to drive as if i was back homr and you know what happened? I never got anywhere. Every red light was hell as soon as it changed because people walk whenever they feel like it including diagonally across the street. There are now 500 scooters in front of you as you are waiting at the red light and an 80 year old man with a fruit cart in the middle of the intersection who might die of old age before a car has the chance to hit him. The slow lane is a death trap as people will walk out of nowhere because they cant afford a car so therefore cars dont exsist. In their mind this is still the tang dynasty. The far left lane has bike and cars coming up the street in the wrong direction so all cars are funneled into one lane. I still have times where im relaxed and let people go in front but it gets old taking an hour to get home everyday when u know it should be 15 minutes. You find one foreigner who has driven here for any length of time and he will tell you hes picked up a million bad or illegal habits and its to keep his sanity. People love to blame rich people in audis but the fact is that you only notice nicer cars. The truth is its the people driving qq's those vw sanatas and those crappy vans you see everywhere. Those guys will straight up kill you. But the end result is that its you pedestrians that have straight up destroyed any sense of civility on the roads. Perhaps its a combination of both but hell you have been nothing but biased with this so why cant I? Im sure a bunch of bike riding laowai here will argue and call me a dick but find a foreigner who actually drives here to disagree.

Mar 18, 2014 22:41 Report Abuse



You're so fucking arrogant. People in expensive cars - yes the rich people - have a heightened sense of entitlement on the roads. I guess you could call that arrogance. It is a simple fact that anything smaller than a Benz, Audi or whatever better stay clear. I stay well clear of them on - you guessed it, my bike or ebike. Maybe we poor bike riding foreigners know the danger of rich folks driving in China better than you. Yes the other bikes and ebikes and such are dangerous but they're much easier to dodge and they also make predictable moves. (Rich) People in expensive cars are entitled, look down on others and are dangerous as hell. They don't care if they hit you. If you're a poor foreigner like me, stay out of their way. Don't believe me? Wait until one cuts you off while making a right turn from the center lane at full speed. TL;DR People, be careful out there. The rules don't apply here.

Mar 19, 2014 03:12 Report Abuse



Your reply totally validated my whole comment. Your just another scooter riding hippy so full of jealous rage at people who make more than 7000 a month that you are blind to the problem. Yes the whole comment was cheeky but if you had a brain which i was wrong to assume you did you would see the point. This is not a car problem. Or a rich lady in an audi problem. Its a china problem. No one here follows any sort of rules. Rich poor educated or farmer. Its anarchy. Regardless who caused an accident. The person in the audi likely wont die. The dumb ass weaving through traffic on a scooter will. Its reality and its life. Youd think theu would recognize this and care. But it surely doesnt make all the problems the rich drivers faults. But you couldnt think with any sort of logic last time so why would you now?

Mar 19, 2014 19:44 Report Abuse



And who says its a simple fact? Wheres your facts? Im not asking for sources but if you had this new thing called google you woild see the the vast majority of accidents in china are in rural ie poor areas. And places like guangzhou or shanghai that ban scooters and such and pedestrians tend to ... You know.. Follow a rule. Well youd see that the number of accidents per capita are far far less. Simple fact....

Mar 19, 2014 19:47 Report Abuse



You really seem to think everyone else here is a brainless 'scooter driving hippy' making less than 7,000 per month? =] My gosh, THAT is funny. Arrogant but hilarious. You can't google experience. Simple fact.

Mar 19, 2014 23:39 Report Abuse



@mikey: although there was some small mention of SUVs on the road, nobody made this into a classist argument until you decided to take sides. All Chinese are dangerous drivers/road users, because if you read carefully (on Wikipedia), you'll read that there wasn't a proper system of traffic laws here until 10 years ago. Rich people happen to be driving larger vehicles, and will inevitably be quite dangerous due to the weight they pull, literally and figuratively. But nobody's denying that e-bikers and pedestrians using road and pavement interchangeably are flaunting the traffic rules just as often.

Mar 22, 2014 17:50 Report Abuse



I drive in China. I do agree that the older generation and foot traffic add another element to driving here. But I disagree about rich Chinese drivers. My personal experience, especially driving on the highway between Mianyang and Chengdu, that Audis and BMWS tend to be the most hazardous drivers on the road. Speeding through traffic at 150km/hr or more. They cut you off, and in the city, they double park, stop in the middle of the road and go buy cigarettes. It's amazing how rich drivers think that they are the only person alive, and they put everyone else in harms-way. Other particularly bad drivers are the "Mian bao" vans. They're drunk or something. They're swerving into other lanes without regard to you being there. I've been in 3 fender-benders. One was with a Cadillac Escalade who stupidly opened their door into traffic, the other two were "MianBao Che" who side swiped me and took off my mirror. I drive a modest but new Chinese brand car.

Mar 24, 2014 21:50 Report Abuse



I don’t know if Bill falls into this category or not, but I know what Mike is talking about with the “scooter driving hippie” set you find here. The type that comes here for a big cultural experience and gets disappointed that the China has the same materialistic values westerners do, just turned up to 11, while kinda hypocritically reveling in the attention that their higher social status (just for coming from a ‘rich’ country) affords them. People here don’t ride scooters or bikes to make a value statement about green living or sustainability; they generally do it because they can’t afford a car. I don’t have a car either, but it’s not a point of pride for me and I don’t begrudge those that do. You’re advocating for a group of people (poor locals) who would probably kill to join the group they are complaining about (rich locals) and would themselves do all the things they are complaining about if they could. They complain because it’s affecting them, don’t think for a second they think it’s wrong morally in a meaningful way. Case in point: They don’t have a problem in principal with fascist genocidal governments (opinions of Nazi Germany are neutral to positive) they just have a problem with a certain other country because they did something bad to China.

Mar 25, 2014 14:36 Report Abuse



Agreed. Although perhaps because Im in Guangdong where they have had a little bit more money for a longer period of time. Perhaps the BMW's drive a little less reckless here. But I appreciated you pointing blame on all groups equally. cheers

Mar 26, 2014 13:49 Report Abuse



Guangdong is pretty nice, I've been to GZ and Shenzhen, both pretty good cities. I liked Liede in Guangzhou a lot, tons of great restaurants...and that awesome mall with the brewpub on the roof deck next to that sony store. I've never noticed that BMW/Merc drivers here are any worse than average, I think it's just that because a new BMW stands out it catches your eye when the driver does something stupid more than just a nondescript domestic sedan. Plus theres resentment of people with more options. Ditto the MianBao vans...they stand out because they look silly, but i'm leaning towards those people actually being worse drivers.

Mar 27, 2014 10:47 Report Abuse



Another expat once told me that every moving violation here in China is equivalent to a "failure to yield" back home. Which means, don't worry about what's behind you, because you only really have control over what's in front of your car. Been driving in China for a while and it's mostly true. I did successfully make a claim against an SUV that was on the sidewalk and opened their door into traffic, thereby I hit his door while driving forward. But the dumbass opened his door into traffic. Luckily, I didn't take his arm off!

Mar 18, 2014 18:43 Report Abuse



Mantra of driving in China I'm the centre of the world, things revolves around me. People have to move away from me, I don't have to stop, slow down, park correctly for the convenience of anybody but me. I might know the law or not, but in no way laws prime over my own will and desires. I might know security rules, but in no way safety prime over my own will and desires. Before me there were nothing. After me there will be nothing. From this, all things are deducted.

Mar 18, 2014 10:36 Report Abuse



When talking about Chinese driving, i also include parking. As far as i can see, parking your vehicle is acceptable ANYWHERE. If there is a free space, there is a car or bike parked there. The number if times trying to cross the road has been changed into a game of chance by the cars parked on corners, thus blocking my view AND preventing motorists from seeing me. And we are not talking about one car, but two or three large luxury cars covering the zebra crossings at busy junctions. Not an owner in sight.

Mar 18, 2014 04:36 Report Abuse



I liked the Wikipedia article you linked to. I'm amazed to know there wasn't even a real set of traffic laws before 2004 - no wonder people here have little notion of the rule of law. Wikipedia is usually very cautious before making any statements, to avoid being biased or discriminatory. But Chinese driving seems to be a phenomenon in itself, worthy of its own page. They gave Chinese drivers a fair rap, I'd say. Even with politically correct sugarcoating, the reality is quite obvious.

Feb 19, 2014 20:47 Report Abuse



Yeah, I was amazed as well. The paragraph after the link was a quote, but for some reason didn't show up as one once this was published. That quote blew me away. That that is the actual thought process on the road. Avoid making visual contact with other drivers, because if something goes down, it's your fault. Wild.

Feb 21, 2014 23:12 Report Abuse