my first Beijing rush hour

December 8th, 2010

…well, my first and second Beijing rush-hours as a driver, that is. I picked up my licence on Monday afternoon and got home in time to quickly whip around to the nearest carwash and get the car cleaned up. Tuesday after class I had time to take the car for a bit of a spin on the relatively lightly-trafficed roads around here. Today, though, was my first day of really serious driving in China.

Today I survived two bouts with Beijing rush-hour traffic and a mad mission to an obscure spot just inside the North 4th Ring nearby the Bird’s Nest, but buried down a wee lane, to pay a vehicle tax that from now on will be paid with the compulsory insurance – and therefore will no longer require a trip to that mysteriously hidden branch of the tax department.

Things I learnt:
1: Beijing rush-hour traffic is less daunting than I expected. Maybe that’s cos of all these years as a pedestrian and cyclist in Chinese traffic – including much worse than Beijing.
2: Driving is a lot like falling off a bicycle. Seven and a half years after having last driven, I feel quite comfortable behind the wheel, like I’m just getting used to an unfamiliar car (which is true taken on simple face value as well).
3: Mandopop is supremely suited to driving in mad traffic. Those silky, smooth, polished harmonies are the perfect antidote to the cacophony of the road. It’s calming, indeed, soothing, in other words.
4: It feels great to be driving again, it’s finding a place to park that’s a major pain in the arse.
5: Buses can be very useful. Changing lanes and turning they create large holes in the traffic that you can use to your advantage – unless the guy in the miandi behind you is cranked up on methamphetamine and his first ever double espresso and determined to demonstrate via his driving that he has the biggest dick in all of East Asia. Has? Is, perhaps…
6: Buses can be equally intimidating if you happen to be on the other side – the side that is being held back to create that hole in the traffic. Especially so if your car is small enough that the 1300cc engine provides all the power you could need. But the drivers don’t want any more trouble than you do, so claim your space if it is safe to do so.
7: I am an extremely vocal driver. Many another road user was told what they should be doing in no uncertain terms. “No, I have the right of way and you are going to stop now” in at least one case. “Bugger off back to Henan, fool”, in another case. But that SUV with Henan plates was being driven especially insanely. One thing I will miss when we head back to Aotearoa is being able to tell from the licence plates which province and/or city a car has come from. I think that was the first time ever my wife told me to shut up. Certainly the first time she ever thought I was talking too much. But don’t worry, I’m not a vocal driver in the getting in a fight sense, just in a quietly venting sense.

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