Sunday, 24 October 2010
There is just one rule in the Chinese Highway Code:
There are no rules.
At least that is the way it seems.
I have just returned from a two week trip to Kunming in China and the traffic situation is just as bad as it ever was – in fact it is possibly worse. My journey to work each day involved driving headlong into a traffic jam heading towards a country road out of the city. The problem was that the country road was the road to Hell.
It was so full of potholes that we basically bounced to work each day and bounced back each night. The length of the journey was 20km, but with the sheer volume of traffic, the state of the road, the insanity of some of the drivers and the number of accidents and breakdowns, the journey typically took between an hour and a half and two hours.
That meant around three and a half hours a day being shaken about in a car.
Mind you, it was funny watching some of the antics of the other drivers.
Here, for your curiosity and possible enjoyment are some of the highlights (or lowlights) of my experience of traffic in and around Kunming.
(1) Picture the scene. There are two lanes of traffic in either direction. Our two lanes are blocked - apparently there has been an accident ahead. One crazy driver thinks that he can make progress by moving into the oncoming traffic and beeping his horn. Other drivers think “Well if he’s doing it, so will I.” The result? Two lanes in each direction become four lanes in one direction with nowhere to go for any traffic in either direction. Total chaos ensues and we end up in a jam for at least an hour.
(2) Pedestrians may think they are safe on the pavement. Wrong!!! Another bright spark, decides that he is not making any progress. He is stuck in four lanes of traffic and not moving. He looks to his right and sees pedestrians wandering, quite legally and safely, along a pavement. Since this is China and there are no rules, he decides to take a chance and mounts the pavement, oblivious to the pedestrians. And, of course, other drivers see him and think “Well if he’s doing it so will I.” Pretty soon, the pavement is full of cars and mopeds with hapless pedestrians trying to avoid being smeared onto the bonnets of the cars or squashed under the wheels.
(3) On one journey back from work, we saw five accidents. The funniest by far was an enterprising driver who tried to manoeuvre around jammed traffic and ended up in a ditch at the side of the road.
(4) We were held up in the city by an accident involving two wagons and a car. The wagons were approaching a junction travelling in the opposite direction, and the driver of the car was waiting to cross between them. Of course, he should have waited but decided that he could cross their paths. He was totally and utterly wrong. He managed to drive across the first wagon but not the second and ended up being wedged in between the two hapless vehicles.
(5) The rain one day was very bad as a result, the potholes in the rural road to Hell filled with water, making it extremely difficult to judge exactly how big they were. A four by four, impatient at the state of chaos on the road, opted to drive around the side through, what he thought was a little bit of surface water. He was wrong. It was a pothole that was approximately a foot deep and he plunged into it and almost tipped over. Thankfully for him, he somehow managed to recover the situation. A smaller vehicle would never have made it.
(6) Our driver was approaching a traffic light with a massive queue. Instead of waiting patiently, he drove down the wrong side of the road and turned into oncoming traffic, veering across another two lane highway in a scene reminiscent of the Freeway scene in The Matrix Reloaded. I almost filled my trousers.
(7) The worst journey we had took three hours during which we drove down an unfinished highway across a flyover that had collapsed some months ago and had had to be rebuilt.
(8) Every single wagon, bus, van, truck, car and moped use their car horns to the extreme. Whenever a car overtakes another car, the driver will beep. Whenever a car is driving into oncoming traffic to avoid traffic jams, the driver will beep his horn as if his life depends on it. The result is a cacophony that can drive you insane. Maybe that’s why drivers appear to be so crazy. Basically, the horn means “I am here – watch out!” It’s just a shame that poor pedestrians don’t have a horn to warn the drivers when they are attempting to cross the road. After two weeks of horn trauma, I now know how Oliver Hardy felt in the following clip:
A work colleague gave me the following pearl of wisdom:
Chinese drivers are the best drivers in the world and also the worst drivers in the world.
I can see what he means. Drivers in China will always take chances and try to squeeze their cars into the smallest possible space in order to avoid the inevitable traffic jams, sometimes risking serious damage to their cars. Yet they still somehow manage to do it and the majority of the cars survive the chaos with their vehicles intact.
I will leave you with a short video that hopefully illustrates how we bounced to and from work every day. All of the movement is from the car, and not my jittery hands.
Here is a little snippet of rural China.
And finally, a couple of images that illustrate traffic chaos.