Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Order of the Chaos

At a first glance, there doesn’t seem to be any order of any kind at all when it comes to traffic.

People who are used to driving in the UK will start pulling their hairs off if they were to drive in Shanghai. Roads are certainly heavily utilized in Shanghai, in the sense that everyone seems to be spilling onto the roads all the same time—pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, drivers and truck drivers.

Drivers have to take note of other drivers that will try to wriggle into your lane, pedestrians that cross all over the place and cyclists and motorists who enjoy squeezing through whichever space that they can find to get by you.

It is really an amusing sight for a new comer to Shanghai to appreciate how road users find their own way of order in their traffic madness. Nobody seems to keep to the traffic rules at all and yet, everyone manages to get around without any traffic accidents. Beeps and horns are common and no one seems to take it to heart.

Opportunistic cyclists and motorists

They are threats to pedestrians and drivers.

There is a designated lane especially for cyclists and motorists on the left side of the road, I guess to prevent them from wriggling between the cars on the roads and causing hazards.

But they are just about everywhere.

In order to reach their destinations as early as possible, nobody seems to have even half a second to spare and thus, they will pounce on every single chance that will help them to travel faster than they could.

Therefore, they will skirt onto the pedestrian walkways and travel alongside with pedestrians if traffic lights change to red when all vehicles have to stop for pedestrians. Some of them will simply drive onto the pedestrian crossings (which will then be green lights). On some pedestrian walkways, you will find some shops and stalls. Some motorists will ride onto the pedestrian walkway, sounding their horns at pedestrians to make way for them, so that they can ride straight to the stall to buy whatever they need.

Police car stopped on a pedestrian walkway in a-matter-of-fact manner.

The emperors at the junctions

Traffic wardens surprisingly have some amount of authority over pedestrians and cyclists/motorists despite the lawless behaviour of all road users. With just a whistle and some hand gestures, those monstrous cyclists/motorists suddenly transformed into demure looking mice and stopped exactly behind the white line as told by the traffic warden. Sometimes, the wardens have to raise their voices at them and chase them into their designated areas.

To these wardens, I take my hat off them. I know that they are paid to do their jobs. But standing at road junctions in full uniforms and gloves on a normal summer day, directing traffic is certainly not an envious job for anybody.

The green genie at work--traffic warden.

The rule of crossing: cross like a queen

Zebra crossings are just for displays. No cars will ever stop for you. Even at the crossing junctions when it is green light for pedestrians, some cyclists and motorists will try their luck to run pass.

The way to use the zebra crossings is to put your feet onto the crossing and just cross. Need not wait for the cars to stop as they will never. Once you start crossing, they will eventually slow down to let you pass. Even at junctions when some cars have the right to turn, you MUST insist your right of way by crossing right in front of the vehicle. Once you hesitate, the driver will pounce on the chance and drive through.

It took me one day to learn the trick. You must insist your right of way under any circumstances. Therefore, I never bother to check for road conditions when I cross at zebra crossings, junctions and pedestrian walkways. Yes, even on pedestrian walkways, there is a lot of traffic.

Sometimes, you will find cars “walking” next to you as well. They will automatically avoid you somehow—slow down or snake around you. Reckless they seem to be, yet, they are careful in another way.

In a way, I find it easier to cross the roads in Shanghai than in Singapore despite the absolute chaos.


Sometimes, you get some cyclists/motorists sounding horn behind you on pedestrian walkways and I just let them horn their heads off and carry on walking at my leisure pace. And I have not, yet, encountered any violence or hear any swearings directed at me because of my uncooperative behaviour.

The best cyclists/motorists

It has to be the Chinese. I am not being skeptical. The way they manuever on the road is fantastic! Especially the way they wriggle pass pedestrians, squeezing in between cars and yet avoiding any accidents or abrasion of any kind.

They somehow manage to, precariously, avoid hitting pedestrians despite driving their bikes and motor bikes in such a reckless manner. That requires absolute precision and skills definitely. Again, I am not being skeptical.

Finally, I mastered the knack of dealing with such chaos and I no longer feel so stressed out and irritated like I used to in getting around Shanghai or anywhere else in China.