Sunday, December 11, 2005

Communism at work

I've just spent a few days in Shanghai where the traffic has to be experienced to be believed. I have always thought Sydney drivers (including myself) were aggressive, selfish and at times downright rude. But a Sydney driver would get nowhere in Shanghai! The first thing I noticed was that pedestrian crossings, despite being controlled by traffic lights, mean absolutely nothing. Even with a little animated green walking man showing, you take your life into your hands when you step out onto a pedestrian crossing. Horns sound constantly, warning you to get out of the way of the oncoming cars, buses and trucks. And you can't bluff them by stepping out in front of them to make them stop -- they just swerve around you, hand on the horn.
Travelling in Shanghai taxis is something else I don't want to do again in a hurry. Merging from two lanes into one is like that scene with the Knight Bus in the Harry Potter movie: the cab driver squeezes his car through the tightest of gaps to get one space ahead in the gridlocked traffic -- I swear, if I hadn't held my breath we might not have made it through in a couple of cases. The Metro was a much better way to get around.
The most amazing thing was that we didn't see a single car or pedestrian accident in all our time in the city. The only vehicle accident we saw was on our way to the airport when we were leaving, when a truck had lost its load on the expressway.
I believe the Shanghai system of road rules (or lack thereof) is a perfect example of the result of communism. In Sydney, I often complain that certain drivers think they own the road, and act accordingly. In Shanghai, everyone thinks they own the road.
Now we are in Hong Kong and I am happy to report that vehicular and pedestrian traffic is more like what we are used to dealing with, although we were in Mong Kok this evening -- the most populated place on the planet -- and there were roads that were wall-to-wall pedestrians: I doubt a car could have got through the crowd if it had wanted to.

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