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Gareth is an Australian who has lived in JiangSu, SuZhou (Heaven on Earth) for a few years - he is a keen observer of the Chinese people, Chinese culture and the changes that are occurring in China at break-neck speed. He can often be found on his a nightly 'perch' in front of his bar in the famous Bar Street in Suzhou, talking to the locals in his bad Mandarin, teaching the 'flower-selling girls' English, eating street food and smiling at the local chengguan (neighbourhood police). Gareth also has several other businesses in China around Business and English training. His experiences have been varied and interesting and his years in China have taught him to be wary of promises but excited about prospects, not a bad situation to be in!
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The Curse of Peripheral Vision    

By Garreth Humphris
2208 Views | 5 Comments | 10/17/2012 2:04:41 PM

Monks measuring their peripheral vision

I was riding my EBike the other day and I saw a friend standing on the side of the roadway waiting for a taxi. I stopped to chat to her and offered her a lift.

If you have never been to China, you will not know how prolific the use of 2-wheeled and 3-wheeled vehicles is! As the song goes, “there are 9 million bicycles in Beijing, that's a fact, it not something to deny...and they’re sending all my love there is to you!”

The bicycle, and now the EBike (an electrified mini step-through scooter) are everywhere in the city and country and despite the adoption of a million cars a month in China, remain the main source of ’local transport’ for most people.

So, from childhood, Chinese people become adept at ’staying in’ wobbling bicycles. One tactic they employ is a sort of “open bearhug” of the rider, leaning forward onto the riders back and limply linking their shoulders into the riders midriff and lying their face sideways into the upper back - ready to tense up for a good grip in the case of a near-miss with a bus or lamp-post. 

The other common perch (for ladies in short skirts and qipao) is to sit ’side-saddle’ behind the rider and just ’balance’, ready to launch themselves from the bicycle at any sign of trouble!

The effect of this is that the passenger is not looking forward on the bicycle but rather at a 90 degree angle to the right of the rider’s vision!

So I was zipping along on the EBike, my friend in ’bearhug configuration’, deftly winding my way through workmen balancing air compressors and panes of glass on their bikes, grandparents wobbling ’his/her royal highness’ home from school and gaggles of factory process ladies riding 5 abreast on the roadway gossiping, on their way home from work.

“Why you do that?” she abruptly asked me.

I was a bit baffled by what she meant so I asked her.

“Why you everytime go across road or nearby gateway, stopping EBike slowly?”, she explained.

“Because”, I said, in my loud and self righteous “you Chinese people have no idea” voice, “I can see other people riding towards me, other cars and buses, other people walking, so I slow down so I don't crash into them! - it's called Defensive Driving".

She pondered for a moment and I felt her take a deep breath...

“That's stupid”, she said, “why you care things beside you? Look people front only!”

Typical, I thought! Another case of Chinese Safety Logic...you are only responsible for the accident you cause, and the guy that T-bones you is responsible for that!.. 

“Huhpf”, I said, “exactly where should I look then?”

“I show you”, she said and then she reached forward and put her hands on each side of my head at the temple with her fingers facing forward! I was like a horse with blinkers! No peripheral vision, couldn't shy at shadows on the side of the road!

We recklessly sped past 2 driveways, and an old woman tottering along the bike path! We weaved and dodged in the peak hour bikes with only a glance at the mirrors and not a full head turn. We were full throttle all the way!

“See, so much better!” she added when we got to her destination - we had caused a multi-bike braking pile-up by spearing into the right curb from the left lane within a 5 meter stopping difference...but that was behind us so we didn't care!

“Ok, thanks!”, she said

“No problem”, I replied, “thanks for helping me become more Chinese!... And much, much safer on the road!”, with associated eye rolling!

“Haha, I can teach you many things about we Chinese!” she said...

Then she added...“You know why you are still single?”.

“No”, I scoffed, sensing some pearl of wisdom from the 6th century was going to come to me! “You tell me!”.

She said, “You keep looking sideways too much, see trouble coming! Just be like we Chinese, look straight and don't worry about side! Look forward, do forward, that is your life - beside always misses you!”

I was taken by her faith in this, but given the weekly road toll in China was around 600 people, I wasn't too sure of her strategy...not to mention the weekly divorce toll! But they are interesting sentiments I might try sometime in the future when I want to recklessly negotiate the bike lane of life!

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(Showing 1 to 5 of 5) 1
#2012-10-18 07:16:17 by anonymous4513 @anonymous4513

I like the lady's advice at the end. Just blast headlong into that random marriage...and then straight on through to the divorce! Full speed ahead!

#2012-10-18 17:02:21 by Grace172 @Grace172

She said, “You keep looking sideways too much, see trouble coming! Just be like we Chinese, look straight and don't worry about side! Look forward, do forward, that is your life - beside always misses you!” sounds like what she said it's right, but I don't agree with it completely. Yes, if you ride in a bike lane it will be ok, but on the busy rode have to consider others. Not only care about yourself, but also care about others. And I like that Anonymous Member funny comment: "Just blast headlong into that random marriage...and then straight on through to the divorce! Full speed ahead!" haha.... I was wondering why so many American have married so many times in their life...haha... now I know why.. he has good sense of humors.

#2012-10-19 08:18:26 by Tyler72 @Tyler72

I have seen some really frightening accidents in China and as a still living motorcyclist who has commuted in some crazy places in the US, I find it very hard not to constantly be watching the surrounding vehicals, terrain, blind alleys and always thinking of escape routes if that truck veers into my lanr etc.. The many near misses Ive gotten through (each leaving its very own pucker mark on my seat) have assured that I will always be a vigilant driver/rider...

But in watching Chinese traffic (ive never driven there, though I was once the passenger, squeezed betwixt two gorgeous Chinese bar girls on the back of a motorcycle, zipping through traffic on the way back to my hotel... The rest of that story is not suitable for a public forum) i have come to the conclusion that the look straight and drive/ride straight, or walk straight, through crazy traffic does have a certain logic to it.. If you look around and fear grips your heart causing you to make squirrel like, eratic dodges, feints and direction changes, then the approaching traffic will not be able to guess at your position well enough to properly avoid squashing you like said squirrel. On the other hand if you plod through the traffic at a steady foot pace, never speeding up nor slowing down, not changing direction of travel... Or continue driving or riding in a straight and steady line, the oncoming vehicals will have a much easier time avoiding you...

#2012-10-19 10:43:57 by aussieghump @aussieghump

Yes, I sometimes think China is oversupplied with the 'optimism bias' in recent years!

For the young, everything always happens to the other guy and everyone thinks they are smarter, better drivers, more beautiful, more educated/cultured, more immune to incorrectness, have cleverer offspring and will date the most beautiful girl in the world! And they deserve and demand it!

But conversely, for their parents, life is harder, they suffered more, they are paid less and they deserve more than everyone else too! It is such a diversity of ideas in the community in just 10 years!

Often when I tell my university educated, mortgage paying, car owning, fee paying, high earning (comparatively), luxury phone carrying students that they are amongst the 'selected few' in China - I get howls of dissent! How could this be, they only earn xxxx rmb and their friend earn yyyy!

It's certainly an interesting place to observe!

#2012-11-02 15:09:57 by zheng77 @zheng77

Grace172, like your comments and so long, this article also explains the author to Chinese life deeply, China is the world's densely populated countries, from the beginning to developing countries, to developed countries, need time and space. People's values are constantly changing and in different degree absorbing foreign new things, aussieghump talking about problems is very good, for their children the values of education and independence Chinese parents should absorb and draw lessons from the west, etc

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