Wednesday, May 30, 2012

DRIVING IN CHINA - THE CLASSICS


Today, time to pay homage to a trailblazer of the Beijing blog world. This is a piece by Henry Breimhurst from 2007 on his blog So I'm Going To China. The topic he examines is one known and feared by all in Beijing - the seemingly simple yet usually infuriating thing we like to call "the left turn".


It's a wonderful representation of a manoeuvre which says much about why Beijing's traffic operates as it does. The humble left turn is truly a telling example of how a society of 1.3 billion people can function like a well-oiled machine, governed by a principle of selflessness for the greater good. Or something.


For the record I sat and passed my Chinese driving test last year (OK, I sat and failed it too, so I've seen both sides). Thus I am one of the few keepers of the knowledge that, strange as it seems, cars turning left across oncoming traffic DO NOT have right of way. I have actually had several Chinese people insist otherwise. It's easy to see how you might think this if you spend long enough here - say about three minutes. But armed with my rule book I can now happily disabuse them of this notion, not that anything is about to change anytime soon.


Enjoy.



The basics of Driving in China…

Here is the explanation of a simple concept: the left turn.
For the ones who live in China: an overview of what we live everyday For the ones who are out of China: happy memories of the traffic here!
STEP 1:
We see here a typical intersection. The light has just turned green for the east-west streets, and car [A], an enormous black Audi with pitch black windows, wants to make a left turn into the southbound lanes. Pedestrians wait on each corner. (For purposes of this demonstration, we’ll assume no one is running the north-south red light, and no one is jaywalking – a rather large assumption.)
STEP 2:

To make a left turn, it is VITAL that [A] cut off all eastbound traffic as soon as possible. The first few brave or foolish legitimate pedestrians step off the curb; this is of no concern. [A] makes his move.
STEP 3:

NO! Too slow! [A] has managed to partially block [B], a brand new purple and yellow Hyundai taxi, but [A] has only achieved whatBeijing drivers would consider a ‘weak’ blocking position.
STEP 4:

In this detail, we can see why: [A] has only inserted his left bumper and cannot move forward without contact. [B], on the other hand, is in the dominant position – by putting his wheel hard to the right and flooring it, he can fully block [A].
STEP 5:
[B] proceeds to swerve right, cutting off [C], a tiny red Peugeot with a gold plastic dragon hood ornament, spoiler and assorted knobs glued on. Since [B] is just accelerating, and [C] is now decelerating, this has created a low-density ‘dead space’ in the intersection. [D], a strange blue tricycle dumptruck carrying what appear to be 40 of the world’s oldest propane tanks, sees this and makes a move.
STEP 6:
DENIED! [E], an old red taxi with its name sloppily stenciled in white on its doors, has boldly cut across two lanes of traffic, behind [D], and then swerved right, driving [D] into an extremely weak position behind [A]. Meanwhile, [B] and [C] are still fighting for position, with [C] muscling his way into the crosswalk. The only thing between [E] and a successful left turn is a few lawful pedestrians. [E] steps on the gas…
STEP 7:
…and is cut off by [F], an elderly man pedaling his tricycle verrrryyy slooooowwwly with a 15-foot-diameter sphere of empty plastic cooking oil bottles bungee-corded haphazardly to the cargo area. He was part of the lawful pedestrians, but seeing the stalled traffic, decided to cut diagonally across the intersection. Not only has [F] blocked [E], he is headed straight at [B], giving [C] the edge he needs.
STEP 8:
[B] concedes to [C], who drives in the crosswalk behind [F] and blocks [E]. Meanwhile, [G], a herd of about 20 bicycles, mopeds, pedestrians and wheelbarrows, sensing weakness in the eastbound lane and seeing that much of the westbound traffic is blocked behind [D], breaks north against the light. [F] pedals doggedly onward at about 2 miles per hour, his face like chiseled marble.
STEP 9:
Now things get interesting. [C] has broken free and, as the first vehicle to get where he was going, wins. [E] makes a move to block [B] but, like [A] at the start of the left turn, only gains a ‘weak’ block. [A] has cleverly let [F] pass and guns into a crowd of [G], which both moves [A] forward and drives some [G] stragglers into the path of [D], clearing [A]’s flanks. Little now stands between [A] and a strong second-place finish.
STEP 10:
Except for public bus [H], one of those double buses with the accordion-thing connector. [H] has been screaming unnoticed along the eastbound sidewalk and now careens dangerously into a U-turn. This doesn’t appear to concern the 112 people packed inside and pressed against the windows (although that could be due to a lack of oxygen.) [H] completely blocks both [A] and [D]. On the other side of the intersection, [B] has swerved into the lawful pedestrians (who aren’t important enough to warrant a letter) and has gained position on [E]. [E] has forgotten the face of his father: He was so focused on his battle with [B] that he lost sight of the ultimate goal and is now hopelessly out of position. This clears the path for dark horse [I], a blue Buick Lacrosse, to cut all the way across behind [H] and become the second vehicle to get where he was going (and the first to complete a left turn), since [F] has changed his mind again and is now gradually drifting north into the southbound lanes. But everyone better hurry, because the light is about to change…

STEP 12:

And we’re ready to start over…

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