Sunday, September 21, 2008

On the Road in Chengdu, 9/20/08

Traffic! Where to start! How to begin! I prefer to think of traffic as being governed by a set of rules established perhaps during the Ming Dynasty when the Great Wall was extended by some 600 miles and much codification took place to protect the Empire. Then, probably only people filled the roads, whether with chariots or not!

Today, there are people on foot, bikes, bikes with small motors attached, motor bikes, cars, taxis and buses. Or, perhaps there are buses, taxis, cars, motor bikes, bikes with motors and without and people on foot for the latter order seems to govern the right of way. It’s a wonder that more people are not hurt!

I’ve not hit a car yet, but I’ve turned several times and found myself face to face with a motor bike rider. Today, I turned to avoid a motor bike and ran into the woman sweeping the street. We both laughed!

There is one particular intersection that also makes me laugh, sometimes out loud, each time I go there. It is the intersection of Renmin Lu (Renmin Street) and the gates to the HuaXi Campus of Sichuan University. Renmin Lu is a large thoroughfare in Chengdu, with three lanes of traffic in each direction – plus – a bike lane for bikes and motor bikes in each direction. It is actually quite beautiful with a wide median planted in a variety of grasses, and some begonias and marigolds. It also is lined with the most beautiful tall evergreen trees – a type of weeping cedar I would guess. However, it is filled with traffic at most every hour of the day.

The cross street connects the two sides of HuaXi campus. When the traffic on Renmin Lu stops, the cross walk is filled with all manner of feet accompanied by back packs, bikes, electric bikes and four-wheeled vehicles that are making left turns into one of the gates from Renmin Lu. It looks like a veritable free for all. It is a free for all! I’ve walked it, and dodged the other walkers and skipped around the bikes and electric bikes and watched with amazement as the left-hand turning cars make their way through the masses.

One evening I must have commented to a new friend here as we were crossing the intersection something to the effect, “This is crazy!” She asked me this past week if I remembered making the comment, and, then, asked me to explain to her why I thought it was crazy! I was left speechless. Gratefully, the taxis began honking its horn and my sputtering attempt at an answer was drowned in a chorused cacophony of sound! Whew! That was a narrow miss! I wonder what the cute little cocker spaniel riding along in the bike basket (above photo) would have to say!

I did buy a bike last week, at one of the so-called second hand shops. Second-hand shop is a euphemism for the widely known, poorly kept secret “stolen bike sale stand.” One student said to me, “we know they’re stolen, but we’re students what can we do.” During the Fulbright Orientation we were advised to buy the oldest bike we could – so that we’d be more likely to have it for the duration of our stay!

A bike is wonderful. The city is completely flat. None of the ‘ups and downs’ of Chapel Hill to worry about. Riding across campus is just good fun; only a few cars of residents are allowed on campus, so the roads are just for us bikers and a few rickshaws. Here, on campus the fabled rules of the Ming dynasty still seem to make some sense.

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