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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 rules are different when applied to me!    

By Garreth Humphris
2358 Views | 6 Comments | 1/27/2012 1:40:09 PM

GuoMeiMei - Chinese Internet femme fatale - with Maserati (compliments Sina.com)

My Chinese friend has just bought a car - and I have been reticent to ride in it with her because, to be honest, I am a terrible backseat driver. Now, I don't claim to be an excellent driver - but I have had 20-odd years experience driving cars, trucks, buses, motorbikes, tractors and a multitude of motorized farm equipment, so I have a few years up on my friend (licensed 1 month ago).

My main concern is safety, and remembering the vehicle has at least 6 corners spatially that you must know where they are in relation to the environment at any time. So, when my friend eagerly bounded up to me the last evening and said “wanna take a ride in my new car", I knew I'd have to bite my lip and bury my fingernails into my kneecaps for a few circuits around the streets.

I knew things would be interesting when she tried to start the motor without her foot on the clutch... the car lurched forward about 6 inches with an “ohh, ohh, ohh”, from my friend, “you know I always do that - I asked my brother to buy me a no-gears car... but he didn't”.

Once she got the motor running, she steered out into the roadway without looking...I said “what about cars coming behind you” to which she replied “well, in China, they have to give way to me!”. I suggested to her in future that she might check her mirror and look over her shoulder in her blind-spot to check if there wasn't a car, pedestrian or bicycle there to which she replied “I'm not blind, no blind spots, I had my eyes checked for the test, you know!”

By this stage, I was ready to bail from the car, but we were wildly careening down the road, horn blazing.
“Why do you do that?”, I asked. “Do what?” she asked. “drive with your hand always on the horn!”,I replied “well, I have to tell people I'm coming so they'll get out of the way!”. Oh dear, you can say that again!

“Traffic lights are red”, I spluttered.

“Say what?” as we sailed through the intersection narrowly missing an old lady on a bicycle.

“Traffic lights, red, means stop”, I whispered breathlessly.

“Oh, my instructor told me if there were no cars coming and it was night-time then the police won't catch you, so it is ok!"

“Really, where did you find this instructor?”

“My friend told me about him - she said he was really easy to get license from”.

Now I was beginning to put the jigsaw puzzle together!

IPhone Marimba - “Wei,Ni Hao”, I swore under my breath, as she was driving and talking on the phone... we crossed the centreline and then drifted back; left lane, right lane mobile phone wobble - I felt like saying something but I had this ugly feeling it would take some sort of serious life-threatening event for her to learn the seriousness of the situation... I could only check my seatbelt was well buckled and closed my eyes.

The car slowed, we were stopping, and we were in the left lane, parallel to the curb, exactly where we were supposed to be - oh hallelujah, my prayers had been answered, I would have to walk home about 3 km, but I would be safe! Then a horrible gut-wrenching turn to the right, high-beams in the rear window, horn from a large vehicle screaming and we were facing the other direction, the truck loaded with soil somehow missing the tailend of our small car. We had U-turned, from the left lane across the right lane, across centreline, across the left-lane of on-coming traffic and into the right lane, right across the whole road, in front of a fully-laden truck... my brain was screaming, my lungs were tearing but no words were coming out!

“We’re going to pick-up my friend, ok?”

“Yes”, I whispered meekly, not daring to breathe lest it be my last one.

I thought my troubles may have been ending, but then we headed upwards, onto the elevated road... oh no, the freeway, what had I done to deserve this... “Maybe I should get out here and walk home... you can go out with your friend”...

“Oh, no, no, she wants to meet you, she knows all about you and she wants to see if you have feelings!”

Oh, I must have really made a huge karma stuff-up this week... My friends description of her echoed in my ears. “32, not married, no kids, had a boyfriend for a long time but he found younger girlfriend”. This wasn't happening to me was it? I was on my way home for a quite evening watching a DVD and now this “she’s nice, and I think you’ll really like her... but maybe you are a bit tall and a bit fat and a bit old for her, but we’ll see”. My friend was matchmaking me with a crazy friend as we swerved down a freeway...”which one is the Renmin Lu exit?”

“Next one”, I said hoping to get off the freeway so when she stopped at the traffic lights at the bottom, I would make good my escape and run off into the derelict factories and find somewhere to hide. “This one, coming up now”.

“Oh, I don't think so, it’s the next one”. We went swanning past the exit lane, “Oh, it is this one!”. Heavy brakes applied, car in reverse... arghhh, I screamed in my heart - reversing down a freeway? I burrowed my head in my chest, not wanting to see... I was a cat, and my eighth life was just used up, I was on borrowed time!

Somehow the stream of traffic behind us, no doubt aware that this was common freeway practise in China, negotiated their way past us as we reversed enough to turn down the exit. At the bottom of the exit, the turn-light was green, no escape. Next opportunity was at the friend’s house... she would not be ready, wildly preening her hair or pulling on knee-high boots and applying makeup - I could sneak out then... lurk in the shadows until they gave up waiting for me and went to a danceclub or something!

But she was ready and waiting on the roadway, and I knew her, a part-time working girl from the street my former bar was in - my friend introduced us, we did the obligatory ’nice to meet you, where are you from, never seen you before’ charade so as not to raise suspicion with my friend. Ah, it’s a complicated world we live in.

To say the trip to the nightclub was uneventful would be an understatement but I won't detail it here. Needless to say, two girl friends sitting in a small car, both talking to each other but neither of them listening to each other was interesting - my new driver friend was turning her head toward the backseat for extended periods and I was every so often nudging the steering wheel into a more appropriate trajectory, but we did eventually arrive at the place.

“Ok, we’re here”. The nightclub was down a small pedestrian alley - one of those common in China that has limited access for emergency vehicles and 5 million bicycles stacked like dominos down it. My friend turned into it. “Hey, there is no-one parked down here! How lucky!'.

“It’s a no parking area, that’s why”, I retorted.

“Oh, that’s a daytime sign, not a night-time one”, she explained, “and we’ll only be here 5 minutes”.

Getting out of the car, the security guard shuffled up to us,”you can't park here” he said.

“We’re not parking, we’re standing... and only 5 minutes” said my friend with a confident wave of her hand and she twirled into the nightclub with her friend. I shrugged and smiled at the security guard and went inside.

They had found a table and the drinks list. “You can’t drink alcohol if you are driving”, I said.

“My instructor said...” her voice was lost in the techno-beat.

About 2 hours later, I was tired of the flashing lights and the laser shining in my eyes and the same 120bpm music pounding my head. My friend’s girlfriend had sidled up friendly with another foreigner in the bar and I motioned to my friend I was leaving. She followed me out.

“I’ll take you home” she said. ”I don't want to stay anymore”.

“Thanks, but you have been drinking and you are not allowed to drive!”

“I only had one drink”, she whined,”and the instructor said...”

“Yes, your one drink was a pint of Guinness and you are all of 5’3 so you are 30% alcohol!”, I snarled, “give me the keys, we’ll catch a taxi”.

“But I drank lots of water”,

“Keys, taxi, home, sleep - pickup the car tomorrow, ok!”

The taxi dropped me home and I handed her the keys “go home now, safe in bed!”

So when I was talking to her the next day about all the difficulties she had had whilst driving, I asked “did you go back early in the morning to get the car?”

“No, the taxidriver said I wasn’t too drunk, so he took me back to the car and I drove home, I think!”
I just stared at her...

She said to me, “I’m a pretty safe driver compared to others”, she said,”I don’t drive very fast, you know!”

I incredulously started with my list, “how can you... drink drive, illegally park, drive the wrong way up a street, mow down a cyclist, aim at pedestrians, drive on the footpath, park without looking, cut in front of other cars, text and talk and drive, change lanes without indicators, reverse down a freeway, u-turn in front of a truck, stand in a bus-lane, reverse over a flowerbed and whatever else you did on the way home... and then tell me you are a safe driver that always follows the rules... how can you say that?”

“That’s easy”, she said, “the rules are different when they are applied to me”.

Trouble is, I think every Chinese driver in SuZhou believes this!

Copyright owned jointly by Author and CyberCupid Co., Ltd. Breach of copyright will be prosecuted.
Comments
(Showing 1 to 6 of 6) 1
#2012-01-27 13:47:33 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

Gareth, you have magically described the experience of riding with about 90% of Chinese drivers in China, and I agree that it all boils down to the prevailing Chinese philosophy that rules are good things for everyone else to follow - just not me.

But you need not politely restrict your observations of this driving behaviour to SuZhou. We had almost the identical passenger experience just last night while coming home in a taxi, and that includes the missed exit on the freeway and backing up 100 meters into oncoming traffic, who all managed to swerve to the left in time to avoid us.

Thanks for this - very entertaining and very true!

#2012-01-27 22:37:50 by tanshui @tanshui

hahahaha. Yes it appears to be every man and woman for themselves when they are driving in China. Although I have found the Beijing drivers to be the most aggressive compared to what I have experienced in Hangzhou, Kunming, Shanghai, Urumqi, Wuhan and Yantai. I found that some Hangzhou and Shanghai drivers would actually let me cross the street without aiming their vehicle at me determined to occupy the space that I was standing in.

But I figure that dancing with Beijing drivers helps me to stay mentally alert and therefore young. hahaha

#2012-01-28 15:43:58 by doctorj @doctorj

gotta agree that chinese drivers are wild, but nothing like cairo. i was stationed there as an american army colonel and i swear you are not even safe on sidewalks lined with trees! some of those little cars will use every millimeter of space to weave around endless rows of cars, people, cycles, bikes, carts, and everything else. and we americans think freeway driving is crazy? and you canadians and brits are even more genteel on your roadways!

#2012-02-07 03:04:22 by chrisfr2 @chrisfr2

authentic conversation with my former driver :

me : "what means a yellow line in the middle of the road"
him : "it means forbidden to cross the line"
me : "and what about 2 parallel yellow lines in the middle of the road ?"
him : "it means it's REALLY forbidden to cross the line"
me :" so why do you drive on the left ? you are from HK ?"
him" oh, there is no police here, so it's ok"

i wonder if the soldiers of the PLA obeys orders as well !!!

#2012-03-27 18:54:58 by Harleyman @Harleyman

Ha ha ha,
So true! I stayed 6 weeks in Fushun, Shenyang and 1 week in Beijing. Pedestrians everywhere, bicycles everywhere. Red lights? what are those? U turns far right lane to farthest lane on opposite side of the road. No concern for traffic. Cop in the middle of the intersection on a raised median, still running red lights. Now keep in mind this was my first time in China. Never did figure out what the laws where by observation. Here it would be reckless driving and loss of license for 3 years or more. But yet somehow it works for them. Never saw an accident or anyone pulled over by the police. In fact only place I saw a lot of police presence was at the station (Must have a donut store inside). Finally gave up trying to figure it out and just climbed in the back of the cab and closed my eyes until we arrived. Payed the taxi driver and thanked God I survived again.
It was an interesting experience, Now I know why asian drivers have such a hard time driving here in the states. LOL

#2012-03-27 21:49:22 by aussieghump @aussieghump

You must have been lucky not to have seen an accident!!! I can't count the number of bodies I have seen in car crashes in China.

According to official figures there are about 450,000 car accidents on Chinese roads each year which cause about, 470,000 injuries and 100,000 deaths. The study concluded that 92 percent of these accidents accidents were due to bad driving skills.
These figures are disputed by a World Health Organization. The WHO study reported that the actual number of fatalities on China's roads is more than twice the offical figure or about 250,000 killed each year, it also estimates that 45,000 people are injured and 680 killed on China's roads each day!

Sobering thoughts - be careful out there!

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