Friday, August 31, 2007

Near misses

Things have been utterly non-stop recently. I haven't seen the inside of my flat for more than about 5 minutes this week while not sleeping or trying to forget about the day's events and attempting to sleep. This isn't to say that anything has been bad, just very busy. I'm finishing up some work which has to be done really very soon and have written a couple of long posts about how I got to be where I am now (not in the Darwinian sense) and a little background to what I do, or maybe why I do it.

In the mean time I've been helping friends move house and running round the city saying goodbye to people leaving Beijing, teaching, attempting to start learning Spanish and continuing with the Chinese. Tomorrow I go out of town for a party, back on Sunday, take a friend to the airport and then straight back to work. September is looking to be very full with three couchsurfers staying at my place for a continuous period of 10 days. Also we have the string cosmology conference coming up all month at the KITPC, which I'm very much looking forward to. (first week's lectures here).

Today as I ran out of the office and caught a cab to get to my friend's house to help her move house my blood began to boil as the Beijing roads mingled with my already high pressure state.

I usually spend my time in a state of calm chaos, but just occasionally it boils over - in fact in the UK it very very rarely happens but the bloody stupidity on the roads in China just got my goat today. I love cycling and I know that I'm not a very safe cyclist. This has improved since I learnt to drive and realised how much I must terrify drivers as I speed around as fast as possible. Anyway, with however many million non-driving cyclists on the roads in Beijing combined with 3 million cars all of whom think that they have the right to get from A to B faster than everyone else, cutting up all who are in their way and slowing the roads down for all, the situation is often unbearably frustrating.

After several near misses (both my driver's fault and that of others) he got out of the car and had a fight with another road hog - a full on slamming each other against the bonnet fight, red-faced arm waving and general macho nonsense. I was either going to laugh or cry as I waited in the car for the frivolities to end so I laughed at them and they split up and got back in their respective cars.

So, we continued to weave our way through the ever-honking traffic and an hour later had deposited more clothes than you can possibly imagine to their temporary residence. The taxi driver left and I went back to the office.

As we reached the traffic lights I saw something which I so often see here in Beijing. A cyclist somehow forgetting that there are two sides to a road. She looked left, seeing that there was a gap in the traffic and pulled out to cross the road. However, she seemed hypnotised by the lack of traffic on the left, presumably thinking this to be a good enough omen. As she got to the middle of the road without appearing to slow down I looked in horror as the speeding oncoming car didn't notice her behind the central bollard. She pulled out, still looking left as the car slammed on its break, turning the wheel as it did so. The car screamed to a halt, in a haze of tyre smoke centimeters from the girl on the bike, who just sat there, looking puzzled at the car.

The police driving the police car, which had been the offending missile, shouted at her as she sat in the middle of the road, still looking unperturbed but a little angry at being shouted at.

The police car sped off and she stayed, sat in the middle of the road as other cars honked at her to move. Normally I would have put this down to shock, but Beijing cyclists get into these situations so damned often that she just seemed annoyed at the whole affair and couldn't be bothered to move.

I'm writing this having let myself calm down a little. My heart has left my throat and my pulse has dropped below 200.

ok, rant over - it just winds me up no end and sometimes I need to vent.


Anonymous said...

Cor blimey Biscuit, that was a gripping read. Having seen the chaos first hand, I can assure blog readers that Jon's not exaggerating. The Beijing roads are just bonkers. It makes cycling in London seem dream-like in its cool, calm simplicity.

Unknown said...

Sitting in a cab a couple of days back clenching my fists in rage as we waited at a T-junction for about half an hour as drivers constantly got in each others way (driving on the wrong side of the road in order to be able to turn the corner) and blocked the T as the traffic lights turned. What's terrible is that unless you play the game you will never get anywhere.

I imagine that Santiago de Compostela will be rather more serene.