Thursday, January 06, 2011

This country is driving me crazy

It's now nearly 17 months since I last set foot outside of China.  

A half-arsed 'plan' to escape back to London/Oxford/Edinburgh over the New Year foundered through ill health, lack of money, and... nearly all my friends being away on skiing holidays and the like.

So, I am reaching that point again.... the point of being more irritated than amused by everything.... the point of feeling that if I don't contrive some kind of a break soon (from Beijing, at least, if not from China) the top of my head will EXPLODE.  China does that to you.  Beijing, I think, does it doubleplus.

Here are some of the mind-bogglingly annoying/stupid/selfish pieces of behaviour I have noted in the last few weeks; things which ordinarily I would savour as a detached social commentator, but which lately have left me regularly fuming.

The lift guy
A chap gets into a lift ('elevator', if you must, Yanquis) and stands himself right in front of the control panel.  Really, right in front - only leaving an inch and a half or so of clearance between him and the buttons.  And there were only three other people in there with him, so he wasn't forced into that position by lack of space.  His nose was just about level with the button of the floor I needed, and I was mighty tempted to grab hold of his hair and slam his head against it.  Instead I treated him as a lift attendant, peremptorily yelling my desired floor number right in his ear to make him press the button for me.  (I highly recommend this.  I give it my Hannibal Lecter Award for Advanced Face-Stripping Techniques.)

How wide can one person be?
The Brazilian motor racing driver Ayrton Senna became rather notorious in the late '80s for wandering all over the track in order to frustrate his challengers' attempts to find a way past him.  I think the programmes offered by the Beijing School of Annoying Pedestrian Behaviour must be heavily modelled on his techniques.  The array of random changes of speed and direction Chinese pedestrians employ is quite astounding.  The thing that's really been getting under my skin recently though is.... the arm-swinging.  It's out of all proportion to the vigour of their locomotion, employing far larger - and often far more frequent (they're not even 'in step' half the time!) - movements than their waddling, shuffling gait would seem to warrant.  I rather think it's a hangover of the military drill they're all forced to do in elementary school (and perhaps that training was more intensive 30 or 40 years ago; this conspicuous arm-swinging does seem to be much more common, and much more pronounced among the middle-aged generation).  The really startling thing about this extravagant, slightly out-of-time arm-swinging is that it doesn't even go straight forwards and backwards (as all good drill sergeants would insist); oh no, they swing their arms away from their bodies, at an angle of at least 45% outward from their line of movement.  It effectively makes the slow-and-erratically-moving Chinese pedestrian around twice as wide - and hence almost impossible to pass from behind (without the risk of getting hit in the nuts).  You have to suspect that it's deliberate, that blocking the passage of fast-moving foreigners along the sidewalks is its nefarious purpose.

The girl with the shopping
A young woman, who I deduced had been shopping at one of the computer stores in Zhongguancun, got on the subway at that stop a couple of days ago, boarded my carriage.  She had two pieces of shopping: a very small carrier bag (full of CD-ROMs, by the look of it) and a small box (that looked as if it contained something like a portable offboard hard-drive).  She was not a very robust young thing, but the two packages were evidently not at all heavy.  Nevertheless, she dropped them both on the floor the instant she stepped on to the train - right in the middle of the doors.  And not even in front of her, but a little way off to either side.... to make it nice and easy for her to pick them up again when she had to get off, but completely blocking the entire width of the doors.  Now, this is a pretty common - almost ubiquitous - behaviour on the Beijing subway; but, most of the time, perpetrators of such selfishness have the partial excuse that the trains are packed and it is difficult to move down inside the carriages (moreover, most of the offenders are waidiren - out-of-towners come to the city to find work or to peddle stuff off roadside blankets - so they're not very familiar with the Beijing subway, don't realise that on most of the lines the doors only open on one side and that if you can get over to the doors on the far side you won't be in anyone else's way).  This was a fairly well-heeled young woman, probably a long-time Beijing resident, and the subway was not busy at this time of day.  If she hadn't got out at the stop before mine, I probably would have punted that darn box of hers clear to the other side of the platform so that I could get off the train (I had visualised this, lovingly, several times...).

Yet another psycho motorist
Another of these 'I'm too important to wait for all these people queueing ahead of me at this traffic light' types tries to overtake about 200 yards of slow-moving traffic; and, of course, is outraged to find a foreigner trying to cross the road on foot, blocking his private 'overtaking lane', and beeps his horn furiously at me.  Luckily he just had room to pull back on to his own side of the road; he didn't make any attempt to slow down, and came within a whisker of hitting me.  I'd barely got the stream of f-words out of my system when I reached my local bar twenty minutes later.  If I'd had something heavy to throw through his window, I would have done - that's HOW WOUND UP I AM about the insanity of China at the moment.

I have several more examples, but I feel this rant has gone on long enough.  I feel moderately catharted now.


Anonymous said...

The catharting of blog; that has appeal, that does.

Froog said...

One of my favourite invented words!

Gary said...

Most of the time when I read your blogs I get nostalgic about Beijing. But then I read a post like this and remember why I was so relieved to get away from the place. I guess the crazy driver problem just keeps getting worse.

Froog said...

And worse and worse and worse...

You'd expect the influx of inexperienced new drivers joining the chaos on the roads in their hundreds - or thousands! - every day would contribute most of the problem, but I really don't think there's much of an improvement in driving standards over time for most people either: people with 3 or 5 years on the road now are still driving like complete f***ing IDIOTS!