Monday, March 10, 2014

What You Should Know About Living in China Part 3: TRAVEL

The longer I live in China, the more I realize how close minded people are about traditions found in other cultures.  We grow up with our own customs and ways of doing things, and when other cultures don't meet up to our own traditional expectations, we often immediately say their way is wrong.  Just because things aren't done the way we do them in the West, doesn't mean that it is done wrong.  If you keep an open mind about China's tradition, and at least try to understand WHY they do things the way they do, your experience in China will be much less frustrating.

You first have to understand that China is only now developing a driving culture.  In the U.S., we have been a car culture for many, many years.  We grew up watching our parents and siblings drive, and chances are we learned to drive at the age of 16.  Here in China, most people are first generation drivers. 

In addition, the way driving lessons are set up in China, the student doesnt' really get that much time behind the wheel before testing.  Usually students wait in line for hours just to get their 15 minutes with the teacher.  Quite often, students are also expected to bring gifts for the teacher.  Yes, corruption even is found at these more lowly positions.  So it's no wonder that the driving here is crazy. 

You have to look at China's traffic in the same way you would look at a crowd of people walking down the street.  Drivers in China drive with a pedestrian mindset.  If you are walking along the sidewalk and decide to stop and look in a store window, do other people get mad at you for that?  No, they just go around you.  If you are walking in a crowd and suddenly realize you are going the wrong way, you probably will turn around and go back to the place you want to be, or perhaps back up until you reach the spot you intended.  These are things that people actually do in traffic here. 

You have to understand that the Chinese  have spent many years with government corruption.  When there is corruption, there is no rule of law.  A police man might stop you because you were speeding, but then take a bribe to allow you to continue on without giving you a ticket.  So when a person lives with this kind of rule for many years, they begin to feel that there really is no law, that it all depends on the situation.  So from my experience, Chinese look at laws and street markings as mere suggestions. 

In addition, the  Chinese mindset is one of pragmatism.  Chinese don't care so much about law, as about what is most practical.  So if a person really  needs to make a U-turn, they will do so anywhere, even if it means going across 4 lanes of traffic.  Remember the pedestrian analogy?  If you were walking on the street, would you waste time going up to the next corner before turning around and walking the opposite direction?  Probably not, you would just turn around wherever you are.  There may also be a feeling of wanting to save money and not waste the gas to drive further ahead.

In China, the laws are one thing, and actual driving is another.  Although the law says that drivers merging from the right must yield to oncoming traffic, in practice this is not the way things are done.  Drivers merging from the right expect that traffic will yield to them.  This actually causes a lot of accidents, but this is just the way people think.  And if a car stops in the middle of the road, the rest of traffic is expected to yield to them. 

The Chinese driver's test is very difficult.  There are 100 questions taken from a pool of about 1500 possible questions.  Questions range from the most simple, to questions such as "If you see an accident, and the person is disemboweled in the accident, what do you do with the innards?"  Do you , a) put them in a bowl  b) stuff them back in c) leave them alone d) put a wet towel over them.  So you can see that you really need to study the 1500 questions.  My husband used an app on his phone that rotated questions every day for him, and retested him on questions he got wrong. 

My advice about driving in China?  Take the bus....

You can buy a bus card for about $6, and add money to it every month.  Without a bus card, it costs 2 yuan to ride.  With a bus card, you spend 1.6 yuan.  You just have to keep an eye on your card blance.  You can do this by looking at the pay box on the bus when you swipe your card.

Another great option is to take a taxi.  Taxis are pretty inexpensive here in China.  Most cities have a phone number you can call to call for a taxi.  But if you just walk to a big street, you should be able to find one.  If taxis don't seem to be stopping for you, find a different location.  It could be they aren't allowed to stop there.  And look for taxis with the red sign up in the window.

Many cities are getting the subway now too.  It is very convenient, and also relatively safe.  Crime is low in CHina, so you can feel safe walking through the subway tunnels under the street, and in riding the subway.  Of course, use common sense and be aware of your wallet and purses.

Trains are a good way to travel, but are a little tricky.  You can only buy your ticket starting 10 days before your intended departure day.  This also includes your return ticket.  There are several different levels of train ticket.  The most expensive is the fast train.  Next is the sleeper train with individual berths for sleeping.  You will be put in a cabin with total strangers.  If you are traveling with friends, make sure that your berths are in the same compartment.  There are people who walk up and down the train selling snacks and meals.  There are bathrooms, although they are usually not very clean.  There is also a separate wash room, but no shower.  The next level of train is the berths where people share the bed to sit instead of lying down.  The next level is sleepers that are hard without a mattress.  Next are seats that are soft.  Next are seats that are hard.  Lastly are tickets that allow you to stand the entire way. 

Of course there are also planes in China.  Depending on where you are going, they are usually okay.  They usually serve a little food, but it usually isn't very good.  I would suggest eating at one of the restaurants in the airport before leaving.  The Chinese food in the airport restaurants is pretty good, and usually you can find a McDonald's or Kentucky Fried Chicken.

My best travel tip for you is to pray for protection before leaving your house....


Inklings said...

You have convinced me that I can never live in China. :)

Liz said...

I was thinking the same thing!

Rummuser said...

Praying for protection before you leave home is a good policy wherever you live!