Rules for Crossing the Street in China
On the way from Shanghai the first night we arrived, I stared shocked and dazed out the window while our driver wove through traffic and Porter fidgeted on my lap. Apparently there isn’t a van in China that would hold us, our driver, and all our luggage, and you know, seat belts are optional. Gasp, shock bad mother, bad mother. But I wasn’t thinking about seat belts, all could think was. I’M NEVER CROSSING THE STREET IN CHINA!
China is seething with people, crammed into ‘small towns’ that in the US would be major cities with basketball franchises. The question is, how to move a literal billion people from A to B to C,D,E,F, and G. Most foreigners hire drivers in China for the simple reason that they’re scared out of their minds. The rules of the road being so clear and all: push ahead, sneak through, weave around, and don’t worry about that bike lane, they’ll jump onto the sidewalk, and the pedestrians will jump in the canal. Left turns are the most treacherous, generally snarling into a shifting tangle of cars, bikes and walkers all moving different directions, yet vying for the same patch of real estate.
More frightening than the cars are the e-bikes because you can’t hear them coming. An e-bike isn’t quite a bicycle or a scooter, but a strange hybrid with a silent electric motor which can go 15 to 40 m.p.h and requires no drivers license. Suzhou, where we live, is considered one of the most e-bike friendly cities in China. On our second day here my husband ignored my objections and bought a bright red one, taking the children out for rides around the compound, and then out around the neighborhood. Two days later he and Abby came home with a girly pink one, eager to show me all the “safety features,” then proceeded to flash a turn signal, open the wire basket on the front, and point out a place for one of the boys to ride on the back. That word “safety” clearly encompasses a broad range of meaning with which I am not yet acquainted.
Time has passed since that first crazy night, and I have crossed the street many times, and brought my kids with me. Stopped short for a car, almost been hit by an e-bike or two, gotten caught in a construction zone after dark and had to share the bike lane with a bus, three cars and several e-bikes-please don’t hit us, please don’t hit us. Yet, as I walk around I see there is a strange logic to it all that those mothers clucking their tongues at our lack of seat belts will miss. The rules of civilized driving so honored in the sparsely populated U.S. could never get a billion people from A to B to C. Traffic would crawl and maids would never get to the houses where they must mop, factory workers would not arrive to assemble xboxes, teachers couldn’t teach, and businessmen would vibrate in place, trying to run their companies from the backs of their cars. It’s an old civilization, it works, just follow the instructions above, and don’t forget to say your prayers.