Monday, September 24, 2012

Out of control

I'm dealing with China quite well at the moment.

After taking a long break from the country this summer, I have perhaps recovered some of the sense of wonder, the excitement of novelty that I felt when I first moved here. And having now determined to leave for good, probably early next year, I am feeling rather like a tourist - inclined to be readily entertained by what I encounter, and tolerant of irritations. Being actually on holiday - since I have no work at all at the moment - may also be a help, since I am under no pressure to be out and about getting things done, having to criss-cross the city via public transport, submitting to an external timetable. Although having no income is stress of a different kind...

But, yes, in general I am remarkably relaxed at the moment; perhaps more so than I have ever been in my ten years here.

Even when I'm crossing the road...

But this is the area where my calm is most challenged, where the 'China Rage' is most likely to re-emerge; I feel it bubbling up inside me more and more often. Vehicles driving directly towards pedestrians, without making any attempt to slow down or take evasive action (and perhaps without even noticing - or caring - that they are there, much of the time) is something that I will NEVER get used to, accept, learn to tolerate.

One example from a couple of days ago:

I had successfully crossed the busy and hazardous 2nd Ringroad service road near my apartment, and had only the railed-off 'bicycle lane' at the side of the road still to negotiate. I was just a couple of yards from the (comparative) safety of the sidewalk.

Then, a woman on an electric bicycle came across the junction at full tilt and made a left turn heading towards the entrance to the 'bicycle lane' I had just started crossing.

By the standards of Chinese road users, she was in fact far more alert and considerate than many: she saw me; and, realising that she was heading straight at me, she took ameliorative action.

Did she try to steer around me? Oh no. Did she brake?? Of course not!

No. She took her hand off the throttle. Right off, letting go of the handlebar as if it had burned her. Since she was using her other hand to talk on her mobile phone, she was no longer steering her e-bike. And engine-braking doesn't slow them down very quickly.

A swift back-step took me out of danger. And the look-no-hands! woman continued happily on her way, although she had come within an ace of cartwheeling over the kerb.

And I chuckled to myself about HOW CRAZY China's roads are. But, deep down, I felt The Rage stirring.


Don Tai said...

You have lasted over 10 years in China. That in itself is commendable. I started to "crack" at the end of my second year. While I do abhor the traffic "lack of rules" in China (We have similar indications of this here in Toronto, Canada), what really got to me was the spitting. Maybe spitting was my Chinese water torture?

You might consider reading about culture shock and think about how it may apply to you. I have seen people crack in China and it is unpleasant, its repercussions long lasting and deeply personal.

Maybe your summer back home has reset your cultural clock back to Brit standards? Can you go through culture shock multiple times with the same culture? I do not know.

Froog said...

I suppose I'm more resilient than most. I first visited nearly 20 years ago, when a lot of things - such as general hygiene - were even worse than they are now; that may have helped to desensitize me.

The spitting has never bothered me much: I realise it's just something that people do here. And it's hard not to sympathise, when you realise how bad the air quality is (I spit a lot myself; but I try to restrict myself to doing it in the toilet!). When it happens at a distance, I have no problem with it at all. However, when people do it right in front of you, almost on you (sometimes, actually on you), then I flip out a little. That's part of the wider problem of limited/non-existent awareness of or concern for other people around you that is the thing that most appals and depresses me about this country. I am hesitant to use the word 'culture' about behaviours and attitudes like this which obviously have no redeeming merit at all, and don't have any essential connection to the history or belief systems of the country. 'Culture' tends to dignify where it's not warranted, and to be used to provide excuses for the inexcusable. I think we need a better term than 'culture shock' for this phenomenon.

Several foreign friends who've quit the country during the last year make exactly similar reports of being amazed how much they like their home countries again now, and how much happier and more relaxed they are feeling. China is STRESSFUL, because of the crowds, the dirt, the occasional xenophobic hostility; but especially because of the constant DANGER - from toxins in the environment, toxins in the food, chronically uneven paving stones and concealed hazards on the roads and sidewalks, the way the streets flood to a depth of inches (sometimes with sewage) within minutes of a substantial rainstorm starting... and, above all, the homicidally incompetent road users.

Froog said...

The weather helps, too. This is always the nicest time of the year here.

Actually, it hasn't been a great September: the humidity has still been quite high much of the time, and the autumnal chill has started making itself felt in the air quite early. But lots of blue skies.

A week of sunlessness can tip anyone over the edge into psychopathy.