Would you like to drive in China?
Oh you would, would you? Well, here’s a brief guide to life behind the wheel….
Mad, crazy, exasperating, liberating, corner-cutting, speeding, texting, laughing, traffic jams, more traffic jams, swerving, braking, swearing, sweating, time-wasting, dangerous, good highways, pot-holed roads, wobbly cyclists, cyclists heading in wrong direction, red light runners…..
Another of the Life In Lifts breakout blogs – this is a blog about the wonders of driving in China. I swear I’ve sworn more on the roads here than at any other stage of my life – including my student days at Paraparaumu College. Driving in China will set you up for adventures in “tamer” places like New York or London. San Francisco’s convoluted one-way streets were a breeze after I’d mastered driving here, though Vietnam and India might be a little trickier.
Getting into the heads of the other drivers is an essential part of driving here. What reckless thing are they going to do next?
Oh my, the road narrows ahead to a single lane and some lunatic is about to overtake you on the wrong side of the road? Let him (yes it’s always a him). It’s not worth the wreck. You’ve got a green light? Congratulations, how long did you wait? Ten minutes? Great, now prepare to be ambushed by at least three cyclists and a couple of scooters who will unfailingly cross your path. Red lights don’t count for two-wheelers here!
There’s too much to cover in a single blog and this is only an introduction to the life of a foreign driver. Let’s start by highlighting a few of the peculiarities of driving in China.
Toddlers on Laps
Yes this happens, more than you’d think. Grandpa (or Dad) drives somewhere with a two year old on his lap. It’s all a big laugh as the kid fiddles with headlights, indicators, and the steering wheel – while the car is in motion. Very cute. Not.
All Day Rush Hour Traffic
Guangzhou isn’t the only Chinese city with traffic jams, Beijing and Shanghai have their moments too. Anyone from a big city will regal you with tales of woe and go. Guangzhou seems to have particular places that are always jammed up. I know, I used to live in such an area for 13. Long. And. Tedious. Years. It shouldn’t take two and a half hours to drive a 10 kilometre distance but it has been achieved (more than once). Sometimes late at night too. Please plan accordingly. Avoid Fridays.
What are those?
Merge like a zip. The graceful art of coming together in a union of vehicles, effortlessly and harmoniously to enter highway on-ramps, avoid roadworks, or circumnavigate accidents and broken down trucks. I once tried this approach and was rewarded with a….
A car that piggy backs another. A small gap in traffic can be exploited and a waiting car doth not haveth the same level of acceleration / pick up as a car in motion. The act of allowing another car into a space ahead is rewarded with a 5 minute wait and a bellow of horns from vehicles behind as you wait for 20 aggressive piggy-backers to pass. A downside to this (or upside if you’ve been wronged?) is the occasional nose-to-tail accident.
Wait at Green Light Day
Green lights are a free for all, except on Wait at Green Light Days (which can be a monthly, weekly, or daily event depending on your luck). Light turns green and car sits there motionless. A gentle horn beep from cars behind might waken the driver but they’re probably engaged in something funny on their mobile phone. Can’t you wait till the next green? They’re busy!
A Dollar Each Way
Taken from the betting option at the horse races. You put a dollar on a win and a place. It works the same for lane changing here. Can’t decide which lane to drive in? No problem, take the dollar each way approach and drive down the middle of the dividing strip and enjoy both lanes!
Driving instructors are said to discourage students from using their indicators as these encourage other drivers to speed up and close the gap. Why on earth would you let fellow drivers know your intention to switch lanes? They’ll do everything humanly possible to prevent you entering their space!
Life in the Fast Lane
It is a curiosity to know why the lanes are divided into fast and slow. No-one pays the slightest attention. The impatient BMW will clock up speeds of 120km per hour in a cycle lane while the ever-reliable Nissan Sunny potters at 25km p/h in the fast lane.
Has no-one told drivers here about the sheer stupidity of reversing on a highway just because you’ve missed your exit? There is little more terrifying than driving around a highway bend at 90km p/h to discover a car reversing towards you!
The bottom of the transit food chain, this category has no rights. Your footpath can be used by a driver whenever he / she (again, usually a he) feels like it.
This photo should sum it up:
Everyone and everything gets to play on the roads here. They have their own rules and it’s our own laziness for not bothering to learn them!
And thus ends an introduction to life behind the wheel in southern China. There are many amusing road stories to share but it is “beyond the scope of this article” to expand on these at this time.
Thanks for reading.