Observations on ‘New China’: Part I – Traffic

March 22, 2011 in China, Travel by pacejmiller

Note: I didn't take this photo, which I grabbed from nileguide.com

[I’m already back from China, but I started to write this post while I was still there…stay tuned, so much stuff is coming soon!  I had the best time there — the sightseeing, the food and accommodation — all top notch…well, for the most part, anyway.  I’m going to be busy blogging about it all!]

My time in China is winding down to an end, but I haven’t had much time to post about it.

I only had time to visit two cities — Shanghai and Hangzhou, both fantastic and fascinating places.  Shanghai is the most populated city in China with a population of over 19 million (the whole of Australia only has 22.5 million), and Hangzhou is, according to several local sources, the number one tourist destination city (though I have serious doubts about that).

Anyway, I had been to China on two previous occasions with my parents when I was a kid. the last time being around 15 years ago (including what may have been a one night stopover in Shanghai during a Yangtze River cruise), and don’t remember much about it.  But what I do remember is that China is completely different to what it used to be.  Less dirty (though still very dirty in some places), less bikes on the streets, wealthy people everywhere and plenty of Western influences.

I’d like to call this the ‘New China’.

Nevertheless, some things seemed to remain the same.  This will the beginning of a series of posts on my observations on New China.  And this first one will be on the traffic.

The traffic in Shanghai is apparently a lot better than it used to be, thanks to the planning work they put in for the World Expo last year.  There’s now a fully functional and highly convenient subway, and you’ll still be able to find special Expo taxis on the streets (which are a lot newer and more comfortable than the normal ones).  The taxis, by the way, are very cheap.  The starting price is 12 RMB (around AU$2) and go up by 1 RMB increments.  And it takes a long time for the meter to jump.  For most taxis we caught we didn’t have to pay more than 12 RMB.

However, people still drive like lunatics in China, and that’s probably never going to change.  After India last year, I thought I’d never see worse roads, but China is different — it might be slightly less congested, but it’s far more dangerous.  In India, the traffic moves at a snail’s pace, but cars still swerve and slow down to avoid hitting people.  In China, they don’t, even when you have right of way, when they have to give way, when you have a green light and pedestrian crossing, when they have a right light.

Seriously, there were times when I had to literally jump out of the way at crossings because cars actually sped up when they were coming right at me.  If you don’t move, you get hit.

One thing I noticed was that cars seem to be able to turn right when the light is red.  Not sure if they do it legally, but they do.  Another thing is that turning cars have the ability to move quickly in unison, so fast and so closely together that cars going straight must stop and wait until the entire line of cars end before they can move, even when the light is green.  Another thing is that driving on the opposite side of the road at high speeds while there are cars coming right at you is nothing to be alarmed about.

Amazingly, there aren’t as many accidents on the roads as I anticipated, which is a miracle, really, considering how fast and how reckless everyone drives.  Every time I sat down in a taxi there would be at least one time where I thought we would crash for sure.

The only accident I witnessed was in Hangzhou, and it was a simple misunderstanding between two taxis.  The car behind thought the car in front was going to do a u-turn, and it followed, but the car in front suddenly stopped, and bang!

Strangely, the guy who crashed into the car in front of him did all the shouting, while the guy who was hit was quiet and appeared apologetic.

That’s all I’ve got for now.  More coming shortly.  And trust me when I say they get more and more strange and shocking.