Thursday, July 17, 2008

When You're the Biggest City in China, Does That Mean You Can Be Pushy?

Every single Chinese person I've met has been kind, calm, and seemingly passive. But when venturing out on the streets or trying to use public transport, I see a different side.

The traffic is horrendous, as it is in any giant city. But I've never seen anything like this. Cars will literally shove through a crowd of people to get through, even when the walk sign is green, loaded buses will come within inches of nipping an innocent bystander who has dared to step into the street. It even happens with kids! The poor little ducklings from camp will be trying to cross the road to get to the cafeteria when a car will blare the horn until they back away. Biked and mopeds do the same, and those could even be the most infuriating b/c often they drive onto the sidewalk and make walking near impossible. Not to mention the incessant honking. What to do when a pedestrian is crossing the street? Honk loudly and plow through, if the walker doesn't get out of the way it's his/her own problem. Even bicycles roll down the street "brrring, brrring!" It's so bad that there are "no honking" signs posted on SISU's campus. You know it's bad when you have to put up a sign to tell people not to honk their horns. Rachel and I decided that pedestrians are last on the totem pole, dead last. I wonder about the fatality rate. Two years ago the rate of assault against cross guards was an average of about 20 times a month: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/20/international/asia/20shanghai.html?scp=2&sq=shanghai&st=cse. Talk about road rage.

Another site of basal, animal-like behavior happens when getting on the bus or metro. Standing back to let those getting out come first? Forget it. Nose in the crack of the door, invisible starting blocks underfoot is more like it. Rachel and I could not believe the shoving that took place when our bus pulled up the other day. As she said, "it was like a huddle of hungry pigs at the trough." Funny thing is, the bus was empty, so it wasn't like no would would be able to get on! People were shoving each other, bumping shoulders, grunting forward. Not only did it look ridiculous, but the whole thing was counterproductive. One by one people could have calmly mounted the steps, but three persons trying to go at once made it impossible, as the door was only wide enough for one.

Parker says that in Beijing they've been having "queue" courses in which they teach people how to stand in lines in preparation for the Olympics. (And they have something like "no spitting" day to try to get people to stop spitting in public places.)

Perhaps I should start teaching the kids in my class about lines and spitting and driving etiquette. Train them when they're young.

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