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Beijing vist last year

Discussion in 'The Pub' started by ibast, Mar 31, 2010.

  1. Kind of travel, kind of government/traffic planning commentory:

    I arrived midnight at Beijing airport, with my alarm having gone off 22 hours before in Sydney and a cloudy mind that reflected it. I was a little surprised at how easy it was to get through customs. I finally found where the taxi’s were and gave a map to the taxi’s driver of the location of my hotel. Once underway he started asking other taxi drivers where it was and there was a lot of laughter. As you can see I know no Mandarin.

    The taxi itself was a Hyundai Elantra. It had what looked to be an old dog blanket draped over the back seat and no rear seat belt. This was soon to become important. As we exited the airport we seem to join an armada of taxis. At the front was what I took to be a communist party car with flashing blue and red lights. All around the sky had descended. The pollution had combined with fog at ground level. Visibility was down to a couple of hundred meters. With a backdrop of lights winking through the smog and an ever accelerating taxi it was a very surreal experience.

    It was about this time the taxi accelerated past the car with the flashing lights and continued to steadily accelerate along the expressway towards the city centre. About now I came to the conclusion that lane markings were not so much an indication of where a vehicle should be on a road, but more a confirmation you were driving along a road, rather than across it. Speed was also a variable thing as we seemed to slalom our way through the night. I eventually came to the hotel, nerves frayed, thanks in no small part to my navigation and a lot of hand gesturing.

    The next day dawn. The hotel was about 8kms by road out of the city centre. I initially considered walking the whole way but decided to get the train. I descended into a subway not fare from the hotel but at this point the English signs disappeared and I couldn’t figure out how to buy a ticket, let alone be sure I was getting on the right train. So I ascended again and tried to get a taxi. He wanted to haggle a price with me rather than use the meter, which I would have considered, but he condescendingly laughed with his mate when I mentioned where I wanted to go, so I told him to shove it and decided to proceed on foot.

    In the end I was happy to do this. Sort of. About half way there I remembered the boots I was wearing were good to walking in, IF you were wearing thick socks. I wasn’t. The Chinese cityscape is a real eye opener in that initially it seems like utter madness. There are all types of vehicles. Things that wouldn’t even be close to roadworthy in Australia. There were cars, petrol bikes, electric bikes, 2, 3 and 4 wheels, ploughs and, of course, bicycles.

    There also didn’t seem to be many rules either. Red lights meant little and direction was more of a general thing than a must. Pedestrian crossings seemed more of a convenient place to collect bodies rather than a place where vehicles must give way to people.
    I eventually made it where I was going and got to spend some time walking through many different types of areas. I spent a few days doing this and had better taxi experiences. I even got to ride in a bit of a 3 wheeled tuk-tuk type of thing. I know I got ripped price wise on this last thing, but it’s all relative. It was only about $3.50 Australia but it was worth it for the experience.

    After a few days the madness began to make sense. Everything flowed. Had they been bound to the same traffic rule we have here there would have just been gridlock. Anybody that believes bicycles should be banned, or be subject to exactly the same traffic rules as cars, needs to go to a major Asian city and be objective about it. They might be going every which way, but they move people. It also got me thinking about the role of electric scooters and the role they could play, given an open minded government. In Beijing I’m not sure about the licensing of these things, but a permit system would be a good way to go in our cities. These things would reduce pollution in the city and move people around at a respectable pace and reduce congestion. I can’t see it happening.

    I did see one accident whilst I was there, but it was only minor. Had the same number of people commuted past me in Sydney I would have a least seen one accident.

    I think our city planners and traffic enforcement agencies need to go to these heavily populated cities and have a look at what is good, what is bad, and what really does and doesn’t matter. Sure Beijing is polluted and crowded, but it would be much, much worse if they tried to operate like us.

    Beijing is an interesting place. It is dirty, but only little more so than some European cities. It is busy. The government is ever present, but tends to leave you alone. The concept of a 17 year old in uniform watching over things is scary, but they don’t seem to have a chip. Some taxi drivers are scammers, but you get that all over the world. There are other tourist scams going on but mainly around Tiananmen. Haggling get tiresome after a while and apparently a foot massage translates differently.

    Overall it’s well worth visiting. I don’t think I could live there, but I think I could spend a few weeks there.
  2. Fascinating insights (y)
  3. Thanks. I had lots of thoughts just after the visit, but didn't get a chance to write it down. Since then time and beer has intervened.
  4. Copy that to the traffic and police ministers of our great land. Good read!
  5. It's utterly mind boggling the first taxi ride. I am laughing hysterically remembering my first ride as I read your post. I fair shit myself for about the first 10 minutes. Especially when we dived onto the wrong side of a 2 or 3 lane road for 50 odd metres to get to a shop on the other side of the road. Lights flashing, tooting the horn against the traffic flow. I will never forget the first major intersection. No traffic lights, 3 lanes of traffic both ways, but everyone simply slowed down to about walking pace, tooted their horns and threaded their way through. No one actually stopped. It's simply amazing. No road rage. In the 4 weeks I was there, and about 1200km's North, I saw 1 traffic accident. An old lady parted company with her scooter in the middle of an intersection.

    The driving styles of the bus drivers had me stressed for a bit. Slow trucks got overtaken. Anywhere. On blind corners. On crests of hills. Anywhere. It didn't seem to matter. Cars or trucks coming in the opposite direction simply moved off the road onto the verges and continued merrily on their way. We went over some pretty serious mountain ranges. Can't tell you exactly what altitude changes but it was pretty big. As soon as the slightest downhill presented itself, the driver chucked it into neutral and simply coasted. Didn't seem to matter how steep the descent was. Into neutral and off. None of this gearing down at the top of the hill, anding using the engine braking to assist. Simply neutral, and go. But I didn't see any mangled wreckage of buses anywhere, so I assume it works for them.

    I got a couple of rides in some later model taxi's further North. Honda accords I think. Seat belts went on as we went through the Freeway toll gates, then came straight back off as soon as they were out of sight. Then away we went. 140-160+km/hr for most of the trip. About an hours drive. Shot past cops going in the other direction and they didn't even look twice, even though the speed limit was 100km/hr. Totally brilliant.

    We went fishing a couple of times. A little Suzuki Alto taxi packed us all in, and we headed out into the country. Turned off down some dirt track, bounced across a km or so of Maize paddocks and stopped at the river. In what seemed like the middle of nowhere. Arrangements were made for pickup in 4 hours time and he left. Sure enough, 4 hours later a little dust cloud signalled the arrival of the taxi's return. No tooting or hurry up's. The taxi driver got out, wandered along the riverbank yarning to some of the other fishermen, finally returned and we were off. No stress, hurry or anything.

    Once you get out of the cities, I thought the countryside was astoundingly beautiful. 10kms out of a city and you wouldn't believe the population was as large as it is. Everyone seems to be packed into the cities. The contrasts are unbelievable. I loved the place. I'll head back as many times as I get the opportunity. Thanks for bringing the memories back.