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Chinese Driving Lessons: Unexpected hazards

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Parked Car

This car is parked here. In the middle of the driving lane.

It’s been some time since I’ve actually driven a car, and unlike the UK people here drive on the right (and the left and the middle), so I need to get some practice before being unleashed onto the roads.

My first lesson after getting a Chinese driving license was driving round in a deserted holiday camp, driving up and down between the decaying rope swings and climbing frames. This was perfect for getting the hang of turning at junctions and reversing round corners.

The second lesson was at the old stadium built for the Asian Games, a few years before the Bird’s Nest. The sports grounds are circled by well-maintained ring road with a roundabout and numerous empty car parks. This was intended to be a straightforward driving refresher, but turned into a hazard avoidance class.

In the space of half an hour:

  • Driving along an empty road. Pedestrians watch me approach. Waited for the last minute, and then pushed their pram in front of the car.
  • Driving along an empty road towards a T-junction on which I have the right of way. Waiting car watches me approach. Waited for the last minute then pulls out. He doesn’t turn the steering wheel so the car ends up in front of me, perpendicular to the kerb. I have to stop while he figures out what he’s achieved and how to reverse into oncoming traffic.
  • I slow for a zebra crossing. The man walking across gets a phone call and stops for a chat in the middle of the road.
  • Driving along a wide two-lane road, there are regularly people driving along on the wrong side towards me. No other cars, so not overtaking – they just don’t see a problem with using the whole road.
  • My first time round an anticlockwise roundabout, there’s obviously somebody reversing clockwise.
  • Wide pedestrian areas on each side of the road. Everyone decides they’d much rather walk in the middle of the road.
  • Bicycles, coming from all angles

This was all avoidable but mentally exhausting to the inexperienced driver.

This isn’t even the busy city streets, and it’s just as bad in the countryside with motorbikes and tractors shooting out of side roads.

Countryside Traffic Jam

The countryside also has traffic jams in the strangest places

We went back to the same spot a week later, and it was just the same with the added bonus of a family descaling and barbecuing a fish whilst watching my reversing and parallel parking practice.

On the way back the car in front screeched to a halt in the middle of the expressway. We stopped sharply behind, and could see he’d just stopped to take a video call on his phone. In the middle of the expressway…

In the interests of safety I wasn’t taking photos whilst driving, so the post is illustrated with just a few of the fine examples of parking I see every day.

Parking in Pingyao

This one is from Pingyao. The lady on the bike was annoyed that he’s parked on the pavement for a sleep as she wanted to be riding her motorbike on there. I just wanted to walk along out of the traffic. The sad thing is that just behind us was a large, empty free car park.

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Since leaving London in 2006 I’ve travelled, worked, volunteered and lived in over 90 countries. Highlights so far would be driving along the Silk Road from Beijing to Istanbul, a complete circuit of South America and volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Costa Rica. I’m currently back in Beijing, as a base to visit more of Asia and attempt to learn Mandarin.

11 comments

  • I am enjoying these driving posts. So many interesting things to see on the roads here. Last night I spotted a three-wheeled bike and a van facing off in a bike lane on Liangmaqiao. She was going the wrong way, but wouldn’t budge. She and the driver were having a grand old time shouting at each other and the cars backed up behind the van (there was no way for them to get around) were honking away. I stood under the tree and watched. It was great fun.

    Reply
    • It’s definitely much more enjoyable as a passenger…

      I’ve taken to eating breakfast whilst looking out the window at the morning commuters parking their cars. There’s at least one argument a day, and a minor collision more than once a week. The parking attendants put up with far too much abuse though, usually from people that can’t park properly.

      Reply
  • Pingback: Steve Juba (@solotravelclubs)

  • Pingback: Escaping Abroad (@EscapingAbroad)

  • I am just in AWE that you are driving here… though I am an avid e-biker (fortunately I also live in a new area with wide lanes, wide e-bike/cycle lanes and less traffic) I don’t think I could ever summon up the courage to drive a car in China – being a passenger is already adrenalin-inducing enough!!
    Given that you’ve studied the theory and have taken the test, could you answer me this question: does the Chinese Theory not teach that zebra crossings gives pedestrians right-of-passage?

    Reply
    • In theory they have the right of way, but the problem here with most driving rules is the almost complete lack of enforcement.

      The only reason there’s any concern about hitting pedestrians is that the larger object (vehicle>bike>pedestrian) is considered at fault and liable for penalties and costs. If caught.

      That’s why you see cases where drivers would rather watch the victim die than go to hospital as the funeral is cheaper than the medical bills.

      Reply
  • I’m glad I don’t drive when I visit China. They really are something else with their random driving techniques and 3 point turns by taxis in a busy 6 lane highway!

    One thing I will say is in China they can often drive slower than other places where there are crazy drivers, such as Saudi Arabia.

    Reply
  • Pingback: @AvaApollo

    • It’s made me an even worse passenger as I now notice even more of the bad-driving from other road users. I only drive once we’re out of town – I’m not a good enough driver for Beijing yet.

      Reply

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