Even in China’s most urbanized areas, the distinct foreignness of the environment is often enjoyable enough for a visiting westerner: the constant chatter in a different language; the mixture of delicious aromas; the throngs of locals going about their daily lives; the incredible, modern architectures towering over everything. But, western traveler, while enjoying the sights and sounds of China, don’t get too distracted or you might get run over before you even find your Chinese love!
Browse through forums and blogs of expats in China and you will find a lot of them complaining about how dangerous the streets, back alleys, and even sidewalks are for pedestrians. In China, the pedestrians have no rights at all, and that’s not an exaggeration. Well, okay, they do, supposedly; but traffic laws are rarely followed on China’s roads and pedestrians are practically invisible to drivers.
Not trying to scare you or anything, but the Chinese represent only three percent of the world’s drivers and, at the same time, the country has one of the highest road fatality rates per capita! Chinese drivers definitely live up to the stereotype about Asians being bad drivers!
The driving culture in China is still in its infancy stage and most Chinese drivers are still first-timers; that is, these private car owners “learned” how to drive only a few years ago when China’s economy started to really boom and many Chinese earned more than enough money to buy their own cars. Imagine this: in as little as ten years, between 2000 and 2010, the number of privately owned cars in China increased from less than 10 million to a whopping 70 million.
Add to this the fact that the Chinese do have a tendency to bend the rules or not follow them at all, and the fact that traffic enforcement is very slack, and the fact that most whiz through their “driving lessons” and get their license without being taught proper defensive driving, and the fact that driving “instructors” are inexperienced themselves, and you have an equation for road disasters!
If there’s only one thing you have to remember when walking the dangerous and congested streets of a Chinese city, it is this: even when you’re on a sidewalk or a pedestrian lane, and even when you’re crossing the road when the traffic light is red, you DO NOT have the right of way! At least not in the eyes of Chinese drivers, who will race to get through that crosswalk ahead of you.
Black, government cars are, of course, the lord of the roads; everybody gets out of the way when they’re coming. But when they’re out of the picture, Chinese roads seem to follow the basic concept of bullying – that is, the bigger vehicles bully smaller ones out of their way! That’s why a big part of the chaos on Chinese roads is the constant noise of blaring horns. Indeed, the Chinese use their horns more than they use their brakes!
And it’s not just the trucks, buses, and cars that you have to watch out for when walking or crossing the streets; scooters and bicycles also barrel through pedestrians, even on sidewalks and coming from the wrong direction of one-way streets!
As much as possible, always walk on and/or cross roads with a horde of other pedestrians, especially during peak hours of traffic. The more people you have between you and oncoming traffic, the better! At the same time, always be on alert, particularly when you’re crossing a busy intersection. Cars won’t stop for you; heck, most won’t even stop on a red light! Either walk very fast, or slow enough to avoid any vehicle that might appear out of nowhere. You should also be quick enough to jump out of the way whenever necessary, which is often!
I read a tip posted by a foreigner about not making eye contact with Chinese drivers when crossing the street; apparently, if they think you didn’t see them, they MIGHT think twice about not running you over! Well, you can test that theory at your own risk! Just remember, your dream Chinese woman is still waiting for you around the corner, or across the street, so keep your wits about you when you’re braving China’s roads on your feet so you don’t get run over before you even realize your dream!
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