Thursday, June 16, 2011

A sense of self-preservation (and the Chinese lack of one)

The other day, I was waiting to cross a wide and busy road up in Beijing's university district when I saw a car approaching uncommonly slowly. I glanced up at the traffic light, thinking at first that it must have changed - although the dawdling car was still well over a hundred yards short of the junction.

No, the light was still green.

I speculated that the car must have some sort of problem - gearbox frozen, run out of petrol, wires from the alternator broken...? It appeared to have slowed to less than walking speed, just barely coasting along at no more than 2mph or 3 mph.

Then I saw the driver, phone jammed to his ear, rubbernecking agitatedly to the right - evidently trying to take directions on how to find an address or a side-road nearby.

Ah, I see. And I sympathise. Really, I do. I know how exasperatingly difficult it can be to find any address in Beijing; and how difficult it can be to spot any landmark along the side of the road when the ubiquitous trees are in full leaf during the summer months. I understand how anxious you might be about not wanting to miss your turn (and have to go all the way down to the end of the block, a half mile or so hence, to turn around).

But, you know, in this sort of situation, what you should do is pull over to the side lane, and slow down to a speed that is low enough to give you a decent chance of spotting what you're looking for but is also sensibly safe for other road users. Not hog the middle lane at 3mph!!!

Really - that's what this nutjob was doing. Bumbling down the middle of a busy three-lane boulevarde almost at a standstill. And without using his hazard lights, of course. And without paying any attention to vehicles coming up behind him.

Two cars closing on him at 35mph took frighteningly late evasive action, and honked furiously at him. Our driver seemed oblivious of them.

Or perhaps he did register this at some level, and finally realised that perhaps he ought not to be in the middle lane. So - he pulled over to the side, suddenly, violently (almost at 90 degrees across the road), and, of course, without indicating.... right in front of a bus, which had to do a lurching emergency stop to avoid a horrendous collision.

The idiot driver still seemed blithely unconcerned. He was now parked perpendicular across the outer lane of the road; but he was at least at the entry point into a fulu, the 'service road' alongside the main road which is mostly used by bicycles and pedestrians and thus where very slow-moving cars would not be such an outrageous safety hazard. However, this chap didn't like the fulu option. No, he backed up into the main road (without looking behind), and then continued to pootle along it at 2mph - although at least he was now in the slow lane, so I suppose that wasn't so bad.

I was tempted to run - er, walk - after him and suggest that perhaps he should STOP to consult a map and/or conclude his telephone conversation with his friend. No sense of self-preservation at all!!

This is the kind of person I find myself wishing an early death on, just to improve the quality of life - and the chance of avoiding death in a stupid accident - for the rest of us. Is that unduly harsh of me?

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