If you’ve been lingering in these parts a while, you’ve assuredly seen incredible and uplifting development. Yet, still plenty of systems still fall behind. The only solution to get through them is to toughen up.
Like most expats, I have suffered from the “zebra stripes syndrome” since moving to China, almost three years ago. It is a dangerous type of illness, deadly, I would say.
When crossing the street via stripes, one initially expects the incoming cars to slow down and stop, not to accelerate, flash the high beams and honk repeatedly—Viking style—putting a bull’s eye on pedestrians, while trying hard to mow them down.
The flashing and honking is the Chinese way of saying “get out of my way,” since cars are, in the driver’s mind, the sole and exclusive certified users of roads. They mean to say, “don’t you dare cross in front of me, or else…”
Taxis and public buses are actually the worst. Their drivers, so much used to being roadway gladiators, do not fear for their vehicles and are ready to plow through traffic, oblivious to others.
In some few instances, the driver either simply ignores me or keeps honking and seemingly aims to mow me down. I still don’t know if they do it by malice or by sheer ignorance, but I clearly let them know what I think of them in my accented Mandarin.
Then, we come to the parking culture: anywhere, anytime, regardless of the originally intended use of the area. Maybe it’s only a temporary stop to check the phone or to wait for someone, but usually, it’s longer-term, perhaps for an entire day or night. On the stripes, in the corner of a crossing, on the sidewalk, to these types of drivers, it doesn’t really matter. Since the risk of getting a fine is often ridiculously low, a total lack of care arrives.
Still, now that some unruly drivers are finally feeling threatened by local police doling out 200 RMB tickets and three points for their licenses, the situation is slowly improving. Crossing a road remains to be a needlessly risky task, and not an act one should perform mildly.
To fight this, I developed my own tactic to use when crossing: the “I want you” pose.
A simple and very effective way to show strength in front of incoming cars, I start crossing as soon as there is a decent opening between vehicles. Then, I turn my head to the approaching vehicle and I evaluate their behavior.
If they notice me and begin slowing down to stop and let me go, no sweat, I continue undisturbed. By the way, driver, the traffic law says to slow down, stop and let pedestrians cross.
If the above does not happen, which seldom does, I keep going, but I point a finger at them. This is pure “I want you” style, and I stare at the driver.
In 95% of cases, they realize that:
1. There is a pedestrian
2. There are crossing stripes
There are rules regulating such encounters between people and cars on the road.
These epiphanies make them stop and let me cross to reach the other side, safe and sound.
I have to admit that being a 184 cm (6 foot) lǎowài probably gives me a bit of a competitive edge when compared to a short-statured local that has lived their life submitting to incoming metal beasts that, right or wrong, have always had the right of way (pun intended).
Then, what happens in the other five percent of cases?
In some few instances, the driver either simply ignores me or keeps honking and seemingly aims to mow me down. I still don’t know if they do it by malice or by sheer ignorance, but I clearly let them know what I think of them in my accented Mandarin. Heck, I might even sprinkle some internationally recognized four-letter English words for good measure.
Other times, I point to my eyes with V-shaped fingers and gesture to introduce them to the apparently obscure stripes. This silent “haven’t you seen the crosswalk?” way of communicating usually brings the car to a stop, with the driver guiltily ignoring me and looking somewhere else or offering an apology.
I must admit that I can see Dongguan evolving before my very eyes, improving and caring more and more for pedestrians, but there’s a ways to go.
But I still need to say: dear drivers, beware of the “I want you” crossing warriors. We want our rights. No, actually, we just want you to let us cross the road!