Monday, February 20, 2012

The latest episode of suicidal stupidity

A few minutes ago, as I was trying to cross the fulu ('service road') adjoining Beijing's 2nd Ringroad on my way home, I became exceedingly vexed by the wobbly lane-changing of a car approaching me - a taxi, as it happens (you feel that full-time professional drivers, even if not very experienced when they first took the job, should quickly acquire a more attuned road sense than your typical once-or-twice-a-day or twice-or-thrice-a-week driver; alas, it is not always so).

This is a tricky, and often dangerous, piece of road to get across - even at this time of night, when the traffic has thinned out. So, you really do not want vehicles approaching you to be changing speed and/or direction repeatedly, and for no obvious reason. If you are the only vehicle bearing down on me, I might take a chance on being able to dodge your random movements. But if you are one of three or four vehicles I have to pay attention to, not knowing which of four lanes you're going to be in from one moment to the next makes it impossible for me to plot how I can scoot across the highway avoiding these other buggers as well. It's like playing Frogger all over again.

So, this particularly annoying taxi is initially in the left-hand lane, closest to me. This should mean that he's about to make a left-turn, and so will have to slow down - which means he'll take even longer to reach me (though he's unlikely to slow down in a controlled or steady manner, and might well decide not to make the left turn at all), and is effectively blocking my path to start crossing the road.

But then he pulls across into one of the middle lanes, obscured from sight behind a van. I can start crossing the nearest lane to me, wait for the van and taxi to pass, then cross the remaining two lanes which are both empty. 

But then the taxi pulls back into the left lane, and slows almost to a stop. Even if he's completely stopped, it's not going to be all that safe to start crossing in front of him (because he probably hasn't seen me; and he wouldn't necessarily brake or slow down to avoid running me over even if he had); so, I have to abandon my crossing attempt, retreat to the edge of the road again.

Then, 100m short of me, he suddenly pulls across into the middle lane again. I assume (ah, assuming - always a dangerous thing to do in China!) that he's realised he doesn't want this left turn after all, and will start speeding up again - and so get out of my way.

But no, almost immediately he starts dawdling again, virtually slows to a dead stop.

I get fed up of waiting for this clown, and dart across the road in front of him (attempting to make eye-contact to make sure he's aware of my presence before I do so).

He starts trying to make a left turn from the middle lane.

Then, he realises that is wrong (cut the guy some slack: maybe his passenger was dicking him around on the directions?)... and stops dead in the middle of the road. This is a major four-lane highway along which traffic regularly hurtles at 40, 50, or 60 mph.

Now he starts to execute a U-turn. This is, of course, illegal, impossible on a road like this. But there is an entry ramp into an international hotel on his right, which he's just slightly overshot; so, maybe he's trying to turn in there.

Of course, he's not paying any attention to anything else around him - like the road behind him, for instance.

There is a truck behind him, approaching at speed. Luckily for all concerned parties (including me, watching aghast from a few metres away on the other side of the road, having finally managed to get across), this truck was not very large nor very heavily ladened. And the driver was (unusually!) awake and alert. And thus he managed to drop his anchors in time, and screech to a halt just shy of t-boning the idiot cab driver.

This is the closest call I have seen in a long while. But I haven't been going out much lately, and have been avoiding travelling in cabs, or walking along the major roads at all.

Sadly, this kind of thing is a routine, dozens-of-times-a-day event in Beijing and many of China's other major cities.


JES said...

The one thing I regret in this writeup: that you didn't call the game Frooger.

Erratic drivers scare the bejeezus out of me whether I'm on foot or in a vehicle, whether I'm in front of or behind them. Every now and then, when encountering someone veering about on a freeway, I have been known to just pull onto the roadside -- letting him past me, if he came up from behind -- and wait for five or more minutes. Because, as you noted with the truck, even if you're lucky with the culprit himself, his effect on other drivers is also unpredictable. It seems wisest just to arrange things so that person is nowhere in my immediate future.

Froog said...

Perhaps that will be my enduring legacy - to have a retro videogame named after me.

Some friends here tonight asked me, when I recounted this story, why was I even watching this crazy driver nearly get t-boned after I'd managed to cross the highway.

Well, because I was concerned not to have anyone die or be seriously maimed in my vicinity (I'm a good Buddhist that way). And also because I was still close enough that I could have got hit by the wreckage.

John said...

I'm a little behind on my Frooger reading (don't worry, the page is updating just fine, I've just haven't had the chance to browse) but just had to mention that Top Gear recently had a feature on Chinese cars, not on Chinese drivers though sadly. While the guys do seem fairly stressed while behind the wheel there that might be more to do with them driving some of the crap that has left the showrooms lately not to mention the safe-as-cheese knock-offs they also covered. If you're interested you can watch the whole episode (illegally of course) on Youku here:

John said...

Also, why were your friends questioning why you stayed to have a look? Who doesn't slow down to see a car crash? Ah, perhaps that's what they were alluding to.