Monday, February 04, 2008

A traffic vignette

Yesterday, as I was walking to a lunch rendezvous, I witnessed an alarming moment of drama on the street - a near-collision between a taxi and a bicycle.

The taxi decided to pull a U-turn in the middle of the street - without slowing down very much first or (of course - this is China!) checking mirrors. The cyclist was putting himself in harm's way by trying to overtake the cab down the middle of the road (cyclists usually have the sense to keep to the sides of the road: it may be the wrong side, but at least it's the side). Fortunately, he heard the whirring wings of the Angel of Death and dodged his fate by inches with a nifty last-minute swerve.

The amazing thing about this, really, was that it did not develop into a major incident. The cyclist paused to yell a few choice obscenities, but then remounted and wobbled on his way. The taxi driver, evidently feeling his ancestors had not been insulted to a sufficient number of generations to justify his parking his car in the middle of the street and getting out to launch into a counter-harangue, completed his dodgy manouevre and sped off in the other direction (perhaps to score some cardboard baozi for his lunch). Ordinarily, an episode of this kind would result in a 20 or 30-minute slanging match - blocking the road, with traffic backed up a couple of hundred yards in all directions.

Is the Olympic propagandizing about 'politeness' finally starting to have some effect on the city's millions of road-ragers? Or were these guys just in a godalmighty hurry to grab their noonday meal? Or maybe it just didn't seem to them like such a scary, scary, scary what-the-fuck-are-you-people-doing don't-you-want-to-live moment as I had thought it was.

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