Stayin’ Alive Part 2: Learning to cross the street

tianjintraffic01small.JPGTraffic here is– well, The Guide to Living in Tianjin, a booklet compiled from the orientation packets of several NGOs, says, “Believe it or not, there are rules; however, no ex-pat has figured them out yet.” Then they add (sarcastically?), “Maybe you’ll be the first.” And to make you feel better they also include, “A sure bet is to follow the locals; let them be you example, and sometimes your shield.” The other couple who are new with us, who lived 14 years in Hong Kong before living 17 years in Zimbabwe, explained it to their family in Britain this way, “Crossing at the zebra stripes reduces your chances of being killed from 98% to about 50%.”

Taipei’s traffic appeared chaotic at first, but it does make sense and it’s not hard to get a feel for the system and feel safe running around the streets. Tianjin – if it has a system at all – is not the same as Taipei. First, replace all Taipei’s “scooter armies,” as Mingdaw calls them, with legions of old squeaky bikes, most of which are black and have no reflectors. tianjintraffic01small.JPGThen, widen the roads and intersections while narrowing the field of vision for which taxi and bus drivers feel responsible, reduce the North American-sized personal space bubble to the area occupied by the clothes you’re wearing, and take note that honking the horn apparently absolves the driver of responsibility for all those within earshot. That’s Tianjin traffic as we understand it at the moment (I’m hoping we improve on that; I’d like to live long enough to learn Mandarin). We’ve also noticed that it’s actually safer to cross about one minute before your light turns green, rather than waiting for the signal – don’t ask me why.

One upshot of all this is you never have those awkward “Who’s going to go first?” moments like you get sometimes at four-way stops in Canada when people arrive at the same time and no one wants to appear pushy. In Tianjin, everyone goes first, and it’s the smaller vehicles’ jobs to get out of the way of the bigger ones.

The photos are from our walk to class on Friday. Jessica will write Stayin’ Alive Part 3, since yesterday she successfully acquired cheap (non-imported), non-instant coffee. It was getting a little desperate around here.

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