Monday, February 27, 2012

Cab Driving in China 2012: Part 1

This year I have no tales of crazy taxi rides  like I've had in the past. Maybe it has to do with traveling in Guangzho and Shenzhen in Canton instead of wilder parts of China.

Then again, things change so fast in this country that it's hard to keep up. In 2006, during my initial visit, everybody was lining up to buy their first cell phones.

Today, mobile phones are ubiquitous and used exactly like they are in the USA: in subways, at meals and, of course, driving. This indicates that technology can indeed influence behavior more than culture does.

Why shouldn't driving habits change as fast as everything else?

A few years ago, in both Beijing (an urban jungle with impossible traffic) and

Inner Mongolia (which is cowboy country with the largest grassland in the world);

Drivers making left turns from a side street to a two-way main street would speed up and whip the turn so that they would enter facing the oncoming traffic. Then, they would gradually work their way over to the right side of the street.

Xilinhaote, one of Inner Mongolia's few large cities, has very wide streets with wide sidewalks.

Cab drivers there don't like stop lights very much and tend to dive up on the sidewalks to go around them. Well trained pedestrians respectfully scatter like pigeons. (These drivers always caught me by surprise with this move so I never got off a shot.)

There are indications, however, that driving traditions in China are changing.

More and more the main streets like this one in Guangzhou have fences down the middle that make exciting and entertaining maneuvers like the ones I've described above impossible. These barriers also keep pedestrians from jay-walking.


Drivers attitudes may also be evolving. On several occasions this trip I actually witnessed cars giving people on foot the right-of-way. The only time I saw this happen in 2006 or 2007 was when my taxi stopped at a safety zone to let a pregnant women with three little kids amble quickly across the street.