Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Shanghai Scares

Pudong River, Shanghai

Over the past three decades of travelling I've ended up taking all sorts of cab rides, delivering experiences from the mundane to the all-too-exciting. (For example, when a cab driver in Seoul decided he didn't want to drive me any further using the meter, informing me that unless I paid cash the only option he could possibly see was to leave me standing on the side of the expressway in the pouring rain.) However, and apart from one memorable trip in India, I can safely say that the least-safe of those experiences are typically to be had in China. It feels like the cab-driving equivalent of giving a small child three loaded handguns in order to teach them to juggle. Let me explain.

Heading into the center of town from Pudong airport (allow over an hour to get into central Shanghai and expect a price of anything from 130 to 170 Rmb, depending on how hard your hotel is to find) we were regularly doing 130 kph inches away from the car in front. Lane weaving is, apparently, mandatory in China and the accelerator is the sole way of deciding who has right of way. Chinese cab drivers never seem to have the faintest idea that the magnitude and unpleasantness of any accident is going in some way to be dependant on speed, while the likelihood of same actually happening is inversely proportional to the amount of clear space round their vehicles. At one stage, we were obviously about to have a very large accident. Us, a van and a bus all wanted to occupy the same piece of a two lane road but no one fancied giving way. It all became a huge game of vehicular chicken but without anyone, seemingly, having any remaining will to live; the most important thing was not to brake. Ultimately, the crash was only averted because we and the bus out-dragged the van before all parties collided ... but it was a very close run thing. Oh, and it was right around this time that I discovered that the seat belts in the back didn't work.

Perhaps because they now have access to pretty decent cars (this cab was a VW Passat) and the roads have progressed so quickly from being not much more than rutted tracks to multi-lane freeways, they've not yet had much experience of high-speed car crashes. However, I can safely predict that this unsafe situation will be changing very, very soon, though preferably until after I've taken a cab back to the airport.

Wonder if Volvo would fancy being owned by the Chinese government?

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