Readers' Submissions

Is Living in China a Better Proposition? Part 3

  • Written by Saman
  • October 25th, 2014
  • 6 min read




Pedestrians Beware

I live in Shanghai which has a population of around 22 million. Traffic problems are no different here to any other big city with a high degree of urbanization. But in China there is a hierarchical system for interaction between motor vehicles and pedestrians. Pedestrians are at the bottom of the list and are extremely vulnerable to death or injury every time they walk out of their homes. In many other countries you would feel fairly safe walking on a footpath but not in China. Here the footpath is shared, with cars, motor bikes (petrol and / or electric), bicycles, food carts and anything else on wheels. I am used to this now and can negotiate my way around safely when using footpaths but newcomers beware.

Pedestrians very rarely have the right of way. If you think crossing a road on a green light at traffic lights is safe think again. You must sidestep motor vehicles turning against their red light and they stop for no one. I was almost run over many times when I first came to Shanghai trying to cross roads at traffic lights. Additionally only the brave or very experienced would contemplate using zebra crossings. Motor vehicles at these crossings don’t even slow down for pedestrians. Occasionally I like to stand my ground and this forces drivers to give me my right of way but they are not happy I made them stop. They are never abusive but you can see from their expression they would prefer to run me over. There is of course another obstacle which you must overcome when crossing at traffic lights. You must dodge bikes who also use the crossing illegally. All of this is done in front of traffic police who I believe are stationed at the some intersections to tell drivers the obvious go is green, red is stop. Apparently many drivers here don’t know the difference and need to be told. Despite this useless direction giving the traffic police do their job with diligence and dedication.

I was curious to understand the road laws in China so I asked a colleague if riding bikes on footpaths was legal in China. Her reply was typical of the local people mentality and not surprising at all. She said it is in fact illegal for any vehicles to use footpaths unless there are signs specifying shared access. However no one follows this law and it is not policed at all. In fact she does this all the time herself knowing it is illegal. In the end this reasoning has some logic. If vehicles had to stop for pedestrians then traffic flow would be severely hampered and congestion would be more unbearable than present. Additionally, if vehicles can use pedestrian footpaths this will also help improve traffic flow. If a pedestrian is injured or killed then it’s their fault for hindering progress. So we are collateral damage.

Of course people operating vehicles on footpaths don’t care at all. In fact I was hit by a bike recently while walking on a footpath. The bike owner was extremely angry that I had the audacity to use the footpath and block his access. The problem is further compounded by the proliferation of electric bikes in China. They are a cheaper environment friendly alternative but very quiet. So if you are hit from behind while walking on a footpath you have no advance warning of the impeding collision. Of course once you are writhing in pain sprawled on the footpath you will know what hit you.

No one in China will attend to victims of accidents whether they are on the road or on the footpath. There is the constant fear that if you assist an accident victim and their injuries eventually get worse or they die then you may be sued for contributory death or injury. So don’t expect any good Samaritans here. They will however call the police for you and hover around you while waiting for help to arrive but this is little consolation if you are bleeding to death or your injuries need immediate attention.

Traffic Flow and Behavior

If you are driving and involved in a motor vehicle accident then beware as a foreigner you will probably be liable somehow even if you don’t believe it’s your fault. Remember we are foreigners and have no understanding and appreciation of Chinese culture so we must be at fault. The resolution of blame is very simple in China. Both parties will wait for the police to come to the scene and the police will attribute blame. If you think about it this is a very efficient process but it’s complicated by humans who feel the need to argue their case in the middle of the road to the police and therefore creating even longer traffic jams. Throughout all this Chinese drivers accept this process and wait patiently in traffic for an eventual resolution.

As road rules are liberally if not ever adhered to here the potential for road rage is extremely high. However, road rage very rarely exists in China. Drivers can cut you off any time, can stop in the middle of the road and talk on their mobiles, can block access unnecessarily, make illegal turns especially U turns blocking both sides and this is accepted as normal road etiquette. When a Chinese enters his vehicle he is in a world of his own and no one can impinge on his personal space. As I have learned over the years if you are too cautious a driver and try to adhere to road rules in China then you don’t survive. One of my colleagues bought a car 2 years ago and so far he has had 8 accidents. I have already counseled him to be more aggressive with his driving and stop being a nice courteous driver. It's obvious those types of drivers will always be vulnerable here.

Of all the drivers in China, taxi drivers are the worst followed by truck and bus drivers then luxury car owners. Some taxi drivers will drive too fast and put the fear of God into you and others drive as if they are on a leisurely trip in the countryside. The latter is very frustrating if you are running late going to the airport. But taxi driver logic is sound. It’s not their car so minimal care is required. Truck drivers and bus drivers are dangerous because they are big and they know it. They usually drive fast so everyone gets out of their way. You should never challenge your right of way at any traffic light crossing when one of these is hurtling towards you. Luxury car owners are an extremely arrogant bunch. The fact that they are rich and can afford a luxury car and love to advertise this apparently gives them the right to superiority when driving.

All Chinese are Doctors

If I was in an accident I would feel very safe being attended to by any Chinese at the scene. Why? Because apparently all Chinese know a hell of a lot about medical treatments. If I get a cold here I am given extensive diagnosis and treatment advice from all my Chinese friends and colleagues. Going to a doctor and taking antibiotics would only be considered if you are at the point of death. Most of my colleagues berate me if I see a doctor for my cold. I tell them I want to recover quickly and not spread my germs to them in the office. While appreciating my concern for their well being they would never reciprocate if they catch a cold. They will cough and splutter all day in the office waiting for some Chinese traditional cure to kick in. I have told many colleagues to go home so that I don’t have to breathe in their germs but to no avail. Apparently sharing germs in China is a good communal practice.

Ok that all for now. I will consider part 4…maybe.