Metaphors for Tianjin Traffic

I remember literally being awed the first time we waited at a large intersection with another new couple on our first day here. We’ve been trying (and failing) to understand and describe the Tianjin traffic experience ever since. It’s not hard to get used to, but it’s hard to explain. I’m writing an article on biking in Tianjin for the November issue, and this week collected some traffic metaphors from fellow foreigners.

“Riding a bike in Tianjin is like…”

“…downhill skiing.”
(from James, English teaching veteran of 6 or 7 years… i forget.)
Don’t think roads, lanes, lines, and well-defined, rigid rules; think ski-slopes. “If you’ve ever been on a snowy slope, you will have noticed that there are no lane-lines, but there are some basic rules:

  1. Control your speed so you can avoid accidents.
  2. Leave plenty of space when overtaking people, especially children, pregnant ladies, or the elderly.
  3. Those in front have right-of-way.”

“…spawning salmon.”
(also from James, who teaches English at Nankai U.)
Think of adult salmon swimming up a river: “a steady stream of bodies all moving in the same general direction. They move wherever they can move, taking any option to move in the right direction. There are no lines in the stream, there is only blocked space where one can’t move, and open space where one can. This is strikingly similar to rush-hour in Tianjin.”

“…herds of wildebeest in the Serengeti.”
(from Greg, 1st year language student.)
There’s safety in numbers and you should stay in the pack and go with the flow. It’s the ones who leave the pack and move outside the flow that get picked off by lions… or taxis.

“…playing Frogger.”
(a common observation)

Other common observations:

  • Large intersections have been likened to a disturbed ant nest.
  • “Tianjin traffic would make a great video game.”
  • “wading through traffic”
  • “threading the traffic”

Some of this stuff is probably a little too much for the magazine. But this is how some of the foreigners we know try to explain how bike traffic works here.

[Oct 12: Our classmate Greg describes the Tianjin biking experience here.]

8 thoughts on “Metaphors for Tianjin Traffic”

  1. hahaha! I’ve also heard these analogies… and can SO relate!

    You can add this one, from one of my colleagues here. He made a reference to water (or whatever “dao” is most like) in Tao-ism, and water. It just goes. It might slow down, speed up, but it’ll not stop. It’ll go around, or over, and obstacle, but it’ll keep going.

  2. That’s how people described Taipei’s traffic to us: water flowing around objects. It helps that there’s more variety of vehicle on the road, too: the bikes and scooters can flow into smaller spaces where cars can’t go.

    “Flowing water” might be a little too elegant for Tianjin’s traffic, though. Maybe partially stagnant water with floaties and bloackages… hmmm, I’ll have to think about that one.

  3. I have yet to see anyone get hit by a car or bus ^__^

    I’m actually used to it, so much that when walking with any of my chinese friends, they all go bonkers when I cross the highway full of speeding cars and buses.

    I still don’t completely understand tianjins traffic lights, in some places I cant even see them, or they point to the wrong direction.

  4. These are all so very true, I’ve learned to give all old people a wide birth when overtaking them on my bike, they seem to try and turn with out looking back right when I’m going around.

  5. I have seen the crumpled bike underneath a car. It is sickening. Talent and experience cannot overcome complacency…

    Is this the best blog, or what?!

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