Getting In A Jam

As Dongguan develops, the traffic gets gradually worse, and One city resident finds it is slowly driving him to road rage…

0116_op-Ed_Getting in a Jam

Fender benders here in Dongguan are so popular that I’m starting to think they are part of a recognized sport, and we’ll soon see it on ESPN or Fox Sport. The traffic here in China can toy with your sanity, and sometimes it’s enough to turn a man to the dark side. Saying that, I’ve lived here for over a year now, and China has much improved since I first visited in 1990.

But one thing that has not changed is the relentless honking: if anything, it has got worse, the number of cars multiplied umpteen times. Put simply: everyone honks, all the time. I don’t mind when there is a legitimate reason, but when you are sitting in a traffic jam and the driver in the car next to you is completely motionless, all in a sea of cars that are also motionless, but they still honk repeatedly, well, madness ensues. It doesn’t matter if it is a man, woman, the young, the old, a big car or small car, taxi, luxury sedan or an old clunker, the honking continues. I have come to think of this mindless noise more as a cry for help than anything else, as if the drivers are saying, “Hey, someone up there, please anyone, come rescue me, I can’t take it anymore!”

Usually, I let things slide and don’t make too much fuss, but it is difficult when things affect you in a deeply personal way, such as early in December when I decided to do a relatively simple thing and drive to my daughter’s Winter Concert. I’m not sure why I thought that leaving the office at 5.30pm would be a good idea. I thought the simple 30km drive from Nancheng to Chasan Town couldn’t take more than an hour. Silly me. Having driven cars all over the world since the early 90s, I’m used to many different driving styles, but China’s never ceases to amaze me, peculiar in so many different ways. Going to the concert it decided to chuck it down with rain and with that the traffic worsened. Fog lights and high beams were turned on just for the fun of it, and people were driving like there was no tomorrow. The taxi drivers were the worst, speeding around as if their beloved VW Santanas are made out of some unbreakable substance unknown to the rest of mankind.

I have come to think of this mindless noise more as a cry for help than anything else, as if the drivers are saying, “Hey, someone up there, please anyone, come rescue me, I can’t take it anymore!”

But all this is by the by. The reason I missed my darling daughter’s winter concert is because when there is an accident, no matter how small or insignificant, at least two of the parties involved (often more) deem it suitable to stop bang in the middle of the road until insurers turn up, like they are casually having an awkward afternoon tea, oblivious to everyone else around them. Of course, it doesn’t matter on the time, place or traffic conditions, they simply freeze in time like a Polaroid picture. Hang on. What if both parties calmly took a few pictures, before moving their vehicles off the busy road, so the rest of China could get about their business, you know, simple things like going home to cook dinner or seeing their daughter perform? I guess such pleasantries are far too logical.

In my case, the matter was simple: I was on Dongguan Avenue, trying to get on the G107, when two cars had the slightest of collisions on the narrow ramp. And yes, the drivers stopped, sat in their cars, blankly staring at their cell phones, while blocking a key access to a major arterial road at rush hour. This is crazy, though I didn’t put it like this to the drivers, opting instead for altogether, shall we say, less polite language. The traffic on an entire section of the city was brought to a deadlock simply because two drivers brushed their cars against each other. It is enough to make grown men cry (and nearly was).

On top of mere annoyance, this bizarre habit wastes China’s resources: time, gas, pollution and, last but not least, quality of life. And to me, on this occasion, missing a priceless Winter Concert.

Educating the drivers to a more respectful behavior (both to the law, and to fellow drivers) is something that local and central government would do well to invest a bit more time and money in. I for one will be only too glad to share my view with local officials, if it might be of any help. For now, I will just have to settle with sticking the middle finger to the most aggressive of drivers.

And, as for next year’s Winter Concert, well, that one is easy. I will simply leave much, much earlier. Lesson learnt!