I like to think that I’m a reasonably brave individual, not quite John McClain but somewhere in that region. However, even to this day I remember the first taxi I took in Beijing.
I got into the front passenger seat and told the taxi driver where to go. And off we went; G force in full effect as the cabbie slammed his foot on the accelerator. As we came up to the car in front of us at roughly horrendous-miles-per-hour, we swerved to the left, narrowly avoiding a truck behind us, then a moment later we swerved back to the right, exploiting any open space we could. It was like a car chase in a Hollywood film but without the benefit of an editor to speed it up. In addition there was a terrified me in the car desperately pressing my foot against the floor mat of the passenger side, hoping to God that some sort of brake would appear there.
My knuckles had turned white from gripping onto the door handle as I thought of all the things people would be saying at my funeral, which I felt was sure to happen as a result of that journey.
“Greg, the bravest friend I ever had. Kind of like John McClain, but with hair.”
As I spent more and more time in China I began to realise that first fateful cab journey I hadn’t got into some sort of suicidal rally driver’s car. No, I’d just gotten into a regular taxi. The state of the traffic here leaves taxi drivers on the verge of pulling a Michael Douglas a la Falling Down, and means they’ll run a
pedestrian down red light if it means getting to the destination faster!
Taxi drivers are just the maniacal tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Beijing roads though. I acquired a bicycle about two months ago, and have since been riding it to and from work. What I’ve come to realise is there are two things you need to know when on the roads here:
1) Nobody ever looks before turning, crossing roads or pulling out of junctions. This applies to car drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.
2) There is one widely observed traffic rule here: my vehicle is bigger than yours, therefore I have right of way.
This has ended up in more than a few near misses between myself and larger vehicles, other cyclists and dazed pedestrians who wander into rush hour cycle paths then look affronted when you ring your bell at them.
But there’s some sort of magic on the roads here; despite what seems like a constant threat of traffic accidents, people seem almost never to crash. Not one of the very small number of crashes I’ve seen here have been serious; a scratch here, a bump there.
You see two cars nearly hit each other and then after they miraculously manage to avoid the collision, they continue to drive on cheerfully as if their lives didn’t just flash before their very eyes. I think the road users here have stared death in the face so many times and laughed that unless their cars actually crunch together they’re just ready to let bygones be bygones.
If we could somehow combine the safety of driving in the UK with the happy go lucky attitude of drivers here, that would be great…