Friday, June 5, 2015

A Taxi Ride? No Problem.

Everyone has heard the stereotype: The Chinese are terrible drivers. I’ve heard it, you’ve heard it. It’s quite pervasive in the States. And that’s where I come in. I am here dispute that stereotype, and ultimately prove it both true and false. Yes, I realize that makes little to no sense, but stick with me, and let’s take a frightening ride down the hectic streets of Xi’an.
            First, let’s hail a taxi. No, we can’t just walk up to the road, do you see those dividers? Most of the roads in the city have tall metal dividers on the edges and middle of the street to deter jaywalkers. Nevertheless, this street is going the wrong way, so we are going to need to cross. If we just walk down a bit, aha, there’s a break in the dividers. Crosswalks, you ask? Well, yes, they’re there, but mostly ignored by driver and pedestrian alike. Alright, time to cross. What are you looking at me like that for? You can’t just wait for a break in the traffic; there is never, day or night, a break in the traffic. Well, unless a truck tips over. That happens with odd frequency, probably because most of them are trike buses. Ah, but I digress. Anyhow, have you ever played that old video game Frogger?  That little frog who would cross heavy streams of traffic one lane at a time? Hmm, you’re looking a little pale, I’ll take that as an affirmative. So now we just wait for a small break in traffic in the lane directly in front of us, and, quick, run down one lane! Stop! Stand right there. Try to ignore the cars whizzing in front and behind you. Ready? Wait for a break, and one more lane over! Quick, one last lane. Oh! Stare him down, you’ll have a better chance of him not hitting you! Whew, alright. We’ve crossed the street. Now we can hail a cab.
            Now, this part should be familiar. Flag him down, give him the address, and get in the cab. Fantastic. Alright, now we should be able to relax while he – Jeez, is he really in between two lanes…and cutting in front of a bus? Crazy. However, this is actually how the driving here works. The lanes are ignored, the signs are ignored, and every car does their best to get to their destination as fast as possible, regardless of signage, or petty things like running red light and wiggling their way through oncoming traffic. Hey, one time, I even had one of these drivers take us through a construction zone, an impossibly narrow path under a bridge, and then shoot out into an intersection. We made excellent time though. Ooh, by the look on your face I can tell this isn’t helping, but you can trust me implicitly, I’ve spent a whole two weeks here. Huh, you don’t look reassured. Just look out the window though, and watch how the cab driver expertly weaves and twists through the traffic. Seriously, he could probably tell me the dimensions of this car down to the centimeter judging by the way he just squeezed it in between that biker and double-decker bus. Ah, here we are. Told you we’d get here fast, didn’t I? Now just take a minute to watch the traffic. Still looks ridiculously insane? Not so much. Accidents are rare, and people drive here like a crowd of people walk, i.e. everyone speeding and slowing down, slipping through gaps between groups of people. Well, now you know the process. I’m sure you can do it on your own now, no problem. Good luck!

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