Cross walking

I know I just wrote about China livin’ in my last blog entry, but something happened on the way to work today that I wanted to talk about.  This is something that I’ve seen happen a lot in my months here and it completely baffles my mind.

My coworkers and I were in the company car, going happily at along when this old woman stepped in front of the car, coming about a foot from getting smashed right into a slightly early grave.

Now, people stepping into traffic is, by itself, neither extraordinary nor interesting.  I probably can’t count the number of times I almost got run over as a kid because I didn’t bother looking before I leaped.  What’s interesting is that it didn’t seem careless.  It seems like an active decision on the woman’s part, although not a suicidal one.

One thing to remember is that in Ningbo, traffic is shit when you get out of the city.  In the city center it’s not great either but cars usually stop at red lights and are there are crosswalks at most major intersection.  As soon as you get out of the city, however, about half of the cars are replaced by 18-wheelers and construction trucks.  The traffic lights disappear and the few that you do see are, for the most part, ignored by the massive behemoths that are rumbling down the street.  It’s like they just assume that anything smaller is going get out of the way, and if doesn’t then they’ll know better next time.  All semblance of order just evaporates.  When you’re outside of town, people pass on the right, on the left, they’ll turn into oncoming traffic to pass a slow-moving car and veer back into their own lane just before a head-on collision; and they do it like it’s the most normal thing in the world.  From the lack of reaction from the drivers that suddenly find a car barreling towards them, I guess it is.

As a pedestrian – if your out of the city – you’ve got a small conundrum on your hands.  You’ve got no lights to help you get across the street.  There’s no way anyone is going to stop for you and just because you’re outside of town doesn’t mean there is less traffic, so if you want to get your chicken ass across the road you’ve got about fifteen seconds of taking your life in your hands.

I’ve had to cross the road in this sort of situation and my instinct is to wait for a small break in traffic and haul my fat ass across as fast as my little legs will carry me.  But I’ve never, EVER seen that same method from the citizens of my host country.  I see people crossing the street in this maelstrom every day on my way to work and it always goes something like this:

They stand on the side of the road, looking ahead; no left-right-left going on, they just stare straight ahead.  Then, for no discernable reason, no break in traffic, no kind car slowing down for them to pass, they step out.  Then, slow and dignified, they walk across the street at a steady pace.   What completely baffles me is that I’ve never seen anyone even flinch when they almost get hit.

Like this morning, this old lady was crossing and when we screeched to a halt an ass-hair’s breadth away from her, she didn’t look at us, she didn’t speed up and she didn’t even close her eyes and wait for the warm embrace of the afterlife to wrap her up and carry her away.  She just kept limping her ass across the road like we didn’t exist.

This kind of behavior screams against everything in me and I am completely at a loss when I try to understand it.  I don’t think these people all have a death-wish.   If that were the case, they’d just hop in front of a cement truck at the last minute and be done with it.  This morning, I asked one of my Chinese colleagues what the hell that lady could be thinking and she said, “Oh, if we hit her then we have to pay her.”

I asked, “Ok, but what if their brains are strewn all over the road?”  and after I explained what the hell “strewn” means she just shrugged and went back to talking to the other Chinese folks in the car.

This makes explanation didn’t enlighten me in the least.  Chinese people are no less intelligent than the people of any other country.  They surely know that their skull + a high speed bumper is going to = death or, at the very least, long term pain and suffering.  So there must be some other cultural view or belief that is motivating this seemingly insane behavior.

At this point in my China experience, I have no idea what that is.

Published in: on August 19, 2011 at 12:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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