2014年5月4日星期日

China Road Rage

Walking on Beijing streets, one is easily endangered by an impatiently impending car. They honk and almost never yield to pedestrians when its their turn or even when it's not their turn. At a crossroad in my neighborhood, at night, cars frequently pass the red light since there are no cameras checking at that point. I enjoy walking except for the part of competing with cars for public space. I try to make cars yield anyways, by walking without yielding myself. Sometimes I would walk so fast and aggressively in my direction and almost bump into the the car that's turning right. I tweeted once that I often want to act like Dustin Hoffman's "I'm walking here!!!" scene in Midnight Cowboy when cars edge close to me, the only difference being that the car actually stopped for him when he walked passed... It's very hard to conduct an uninterrupted conversation with someone while walking in a big city. I used to think that Beijing taxis are easier to cross since they don't exactly need to rush or stroke their ego by ruling the roads, but experiences have proven me wrong about that as well: they would just as likely risk running over you and not give you the thrill of "winning." Once a van actually bumped into me while I was walking pass while it started backing out without warning. I was so irritated I slammed my fist on the back window in emulation of Dustin Hoffman, and walked away as quickly as I could. 
I wondered that despite my principles against driving and cars, I also wished that I did not have to be subjected to the daily pestering and fear or anger that one may run over me. Suhail often bikes around, and encouraged me to explore ride a bike as well. Even though his bike got stolen at least six times, he never gave up and just kept downgrading the bike so it would look less marketable for the potential thief. I also realized that I was an outlier among foreign students since I never explored hutongs on a bike. For the total of 6 years I have lived in Beijing, I've only biked for leisure. My increasing awareness of Beijing's air pollution also keeps me dependent on the subway system. For the fearless of both cars and air pollution, Check out this project Bamboo Bicycles Beijing by a Claremont alum if you're interested in alternative ways to commute. (I also found out recently that Beijing's subway system transports the second largest amount of people per day, just behind Tokyo. That's why avoiding rush hours is not even enough to avoid the crowd...)
Car ownership serves as a class symbol in China, but I really wish it wasn't. A Chinese factory almost acquired the Hummer brand gives you an inkling about the irrational China market. The more people fear road rage from aggressive cars, the more they would want a car. I believe that people in general could benefit from being out in the open when commuting and using shielded transportation like cars only when they absolutely need to. Motorbikes and bikes are nice. Others disagree, such as this hater of the Divvy shared bike system in Chicago, but it proves how transportation shapes our moods and identities. Yet when I leave China next week, I might miss those cars that are so eager to flaunt their aggressiveness and stress their priority just a little bit. I have been reading Death and Life of Great American Cities, and it has been a slow start and just started mentioning sidewalks. Much of the introduction argues against Garden City models. I'm not sure which cities in China actively engage in urban planning, so reading this book helps me understand American society and politics rather than solutions for China. I have a love-hate relationship with public spaces in China, probably more hate because a lot of them are commercial and/or tacky, but that would deserves another post.


This post is part of My Goodbye to Beijing Series. Leaving May 11th until I get my Masters Degree (or higher), make it count.

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