June 4, 2009

By Elena Garcia

TaxisAs to be expected the driving here in Shanghai is … bad. People drive like maniacs escaping from prison.

This isn’t anything new either, the drivers here in Shanghai didn’t magically decide to put on their racing helmets and join the cast of Mario Kart. But it was a particular taxicab ride here that reminded me just how crazy they could be.

Garrett and I were heading to the airport for our trip to Hong Kong (we were going there to renew our visas) as typical we hailed a cab and asked him to take us the Pudong airport. From our house, this destination was about an hour and half away, so it would be a long journey. Expecting this we left plenty of time for traveling and traffic.

I don’t think our driver realized this.

No sooner had we cleared the off freeway traffic, when the taxi cab driver exploded onto the lanes of the highway. Like a bullet we flew through the lanes, swerving past the other drivers. I was horrified. He was soaring.

The way it works in Shanghai, with the taxi’s is that the fare goes up 1 RMB (about 10 cents) every Kilometer on average this takes about one minute, now if the cab is stuck in traffic it takes 2 minutes of no or slow movement to go up those 1 RMB. The meter works in conjunction with speedometer in order to tell how far you’ve gone and how quickly you’re going.

Providing you with this knowledge, now imagine how quickly we were going when our meter went up the 1 RMB every 20 seconds (I counted). We were going 3 Kilometers a minute!! That’s three times the normal, allowed speed limit. This was not a fun ride.

Garrett and I shared glances every couple seconds as we jetted through  the other cars. Nervous, scared and unsure what to do, Garrett finally asked the guy to slow down. He shrugged and slowed down for about 3 minutes and then put his lead foot right back on the pedal.

What amazed me was how calm he was, as if this ridiculous speed was a norm for him. He’d put his head back on the headrest, extend his scrawny arm into the empty passenger seat next to him , tapping the dirty white polyester seat cover with his grimy un manicured hand. As if bored with the amount of time required to get us to our destination.

Finally after a 30 minute light speed journey we arrived to our terminal sprang out of the car and mounted our feet onto the hard still ground. Catching our breath as if we had just gotten off an amusement ride from hell.

Garrett and I have become accustomed to the swerving of lanes, the creation of imaginary lanes to pass traffic and the total disregard for pedestrians crossing the road but this blew us away. Made us angry! This jerk put us in danger and acted as if we were crazy.

Never seizes to amaze me how incredibly unaware and self absorbed some Chinese people are. (Not all!!) If you’re in their way, they’ll knock you down. If you leave space in a line so you’re not molesting the person in front of you, they’ll cut in. There are just no manners.

Another example of this, via the road, are pedestrians. We have no rights here. In Shanghai, if you are a pedestrian you DO NOT have the right away. If you see a car coming, even if you have the green, DO NOT go. You will get hit and die. With that warning I think it’s important to point out that for native and more experienced people this isn’t a problem. The rules of the road are conducted like a well-choreographed dance. Everyone has his or her role and everyone moves with the music, or in this instance the traffic. It’s when you hesitate that people get in trouble. DO NOT hesitate.

You see, cars plan their movements on your current move, if  they see you crossing they expect you to finish according to the pace you’re currently at, they manage their speed based on you. They slow down just enough to make sure you get by and they get by without any serious delay. It’s when you hesitate that everything is messed up. You see the car coming, you get scared, you stop, slow down, and they no longer can predict your movements. If you commit to crossing the street, commit! Don’t change your mind and don’t look back.