Tuesday, January 25, 2011

SLOWLY does it!

I got hit by a car again last week.  This is becoming rather too much of a habit just lately!

This time it was a taxi... a taxi reversing.... a taxi reversing into my hutong around a blind corner.

Now, I - because I am a very alert road user (whether in a vehicle or on foot) - had noticed the taxi stopped just around the corner, and had considered the possibility that it might be about to start reversing.

However, given that he was about to back on to a densely populated residential street around a blind corner, I thought that the cabbie might do so just a little cautiously, that he might - you know - look behind him before beginning to move.  Oh, silly me!

I took a good long look at the car and its driver, and they showed no sign of being about to go anywhere.  So, I gingerly started to step out into the opening of the side-alley.  I paused just for a moment to peer in through the rear window again, to try to make eye-contact with the driver in his rear-view mirror, just to double-check that he wasn't about to reverse into me.

And at that precise moment, he reversed into me.  I might have suspected it was a deliberate piece of xenophobic hostility, but - since I was looking right at him at the time - I could tell that he simply had no idea I was there; because he wasn't looking in his rear-view mirror, or over his right shoulder; he was looking directly ahead of him, down the emptly lane he was about to exit... backwards.

It wasn't the lack of concern for what might have been behind him, though, that appalled me so much as his limited car control.  He took his foot very suddenly off the clutch pedal and lurched backwards 2 or 3 feet all at once.

Luckily for me, that was about the distance I was behind him.  And I managed to absorb the impact by bracing my hands violently on his boot and allowing him to push me backwards several inches, my slippery-soled shoes sliding easily over the smooth tarmac.

To recap: a taxi driver (who you might hope would exhibit rather better standards of road sense and car control than your average Beijing motorist) is looking to reverse into a narrow street with a lot of pedestrian traffic on it, around a blind corner.... and he doesn't look behind him OR proceed slowly, a few inches at a time; no, he tries to do it in two or three speedy lurches while looking in the opposite direction.

The worry is that this is not in any way an unusual story: I see instances of this sort of criminal incompetence almost daily on Beijing's roads.

Just occasionally, though, the lack of basic driving skills manifests itself in the opposite manner - people being too cautious.  I suppose I shouldn't complain (what do you want from me - consistency??); it is, I admit, far preferable to the usual homicidal stupidity we have to suffer here - not dangerous, just bloody irritating.  Just the other day, I got caught behind a guy driving a big SUV through the hutongs (the narrow - mostly, in effect, single lane - alleyways that still dominate my corner of Beijing).  He reached a point where there were cars parked ahead of him on both sides of the road; and it took him fully 10 minutes to negotiate this bottleneck.  Now, it is a very big car; and he was probably very inexperienced in driving it.  And erring on the side of caution is generally a good thing - up to a point.  But the lane was relatively wide at this point.  He had at least 6" of clearance on both sides of his car, probably 8" or 10", in fact: all he had to do was drive - slowly - in a straight line for 30 feet.  He lacked the confidence to do this; instead, he crept forward a few inches at a time... stopped... bit his lip in panic... checked the clearance both sides again (twice).... and slowly inched forward a little further.... then stopped again.  By the time he got through, there were three of Beijing's formidable old grannies waiting behind him (on foot) giving him abuse.  A man like that should not be allowed to own A LARGE CAR.  Well, no-one in Beijing should be allowed to own a A LARGE CAR - but especially not him.

If I get held up behind an idiot like that again, I think I'm going to climb over his roof.

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