An American in Chengdu

Traffic (Part 1) | October 13, 2009

We face off across the street like ragtag armies: bicycles, electric bicycles, motorbikes, pedestrians. Our numbers swell

Rush hour on campus. The light you see disappeared over the holiday; I haven't checked to see whether it's back.

Rush hour on campus. The light you see disappeared over the holiday; I haven't checked to see whether it's back.

by the minute, each new arrival angling for a strategic position. Finally, the traffic officer’s whistle, our battle cry, sounds, and we surge across the street, soon meeting a wall of determined travelers coming the other direction. Sometimes a car has tried to make it through after the whistle and gotten trapped in the middle of the onslaught, presenting an additional obstacle. We edge forward, the cyclists remaining stubbornly mounted, though most of us are forced to put a foot on the ground for balance. Finally the crowd thins and we’ve made it: we’re on the other side of campus.

There used to be a pedestrian tunnel under the busy artery that cuts our campus in half, Samantha told me, but it was closed because of subway construction. So now, especially at busy times, getting across the street is a battle. It can be even more interesting at less busy times, though, since the traffic officer seems to go home around dinnertime, leaving us to fend for ourselves.

I noticed back in Washington that people tend to follow others’ lead when it comes to jaywalking. That is, if you’re at an intersection waiting for the light to change and you see someone just stride across, your natural inclination is to go, too. But it’s psychologically harder to jaywalk past a group that’s standing and waiting for the light, even if there are no cars coming. This herd instinct, a curiosity in DC, is an important survival mechanism here. Drivers don’t always stop for red lights, but they do stop when a steady stream of cars, bicycles, and/or pedestrians is in their way. Similarly, the way to get across the busy street in the evenings is to wait until a few more bikes arrive, watch for a thin spot in the traffic, edge forward, edge forward, and go as a group (preferably positioning oneself safely in the middle of the pack).

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    About me

    I've come to Sichuan in search of adventure, fluency in Chinese, and awesome vegetarian food. I have to concede that the baby pandas are very cute.
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