Streets and Traffic, Beijing
I can't read Chinese (yet) but from what I could pick up on my short stay, street names in Beijing are form by the name as such, plus the cardinal point the street goes towards, plus either "street" or "road".
For example: Xinjiekou Nandajie, where "Xinjiekou" is the name, "nan" means south and "dajie" means street. Thus this street goes southbound.
What makes it confusing is that Xinjiekou Nandajie becomes Xinjiekou Beidajie at some point along the street, and that's probably one of the reasons why all subway stations have maps at all exits, to make things easier for the passengers. The good thing is that all signs I saw were written in both Chinese and English.
I made this list that hopefully will shed some clarity to someone else:
- Bei: north
- Nan: south
- Dong: east
- Xi: west
- Dajie: street
- Hutong: alley.
China is constantly being swept. If you set foot in a mall or hotel, you risk being brushed into a heap by a uniformed lady bearing a huge flat mop.
Outside, the streets are maintained round the clock, year round by men and women in orange suits or jackets, removing dirt, dust and leaves, but curiously able to leave paper, litter, Coke bottles and plastic rubbish intact.
These sweepers, indoor and outdoor, are usually migrant workers, actively ignored by the sophisticated urban litter-dropping Beijing people and foreigners. However, if you stop for a while to say 'Hello' (and perhaps even Xie-xie) they open up with big smiles and an uncommon warmth.
So we did visit Beijing during the month of July. And I can assure you that it can be very hot in Beijing in July.
Also there was almost no wind. Lucky for us it was kind of foggy, or was it just smog . . .
But as you can see also the local police men found a cooler place to sit down, and rest and enjoy their break.
Karaoke was developed as a way to test peoples' abilities to tolerate others. So Chinese sales promotions take karaoke a step further by taking amateur entertainment out into the street where the tolernce of innocent passers-by can be thoroughly tried.
It is difficult selling anything in China, because there is no such thing as brand. Few Chinese companies have any brand loyalty or even any brand knowledge,so companies resort to smple gimmicks to attract people. Presumably they are relying on at least one of the audience buying the product out of sheer boredom.
Small stages are set up with enough sound equipment to operate a U2 stadium gig, and a passionate, if unintelligible MC, bellows into a microphone. The audience gathers, watches in silent bemusement, then moves on.
In this particular example, the MC has dressed up in Qing imperial costume to reinforce the ridicule. Note the totally expressionless faces of everyone in the audience. These people are cold, bored and don't have enough money to buy anything.
What a strange, mysterious and beautiful place Beijing can be. It is a huge city full of modern skyscrapers and technology. But how strange is it to see in the heart of the downtown area people riding their bicycles in the streets. It could be that I am just an American who is not used to it....yeah that is probably it. But still, I can't imagine anyone in New York City, or London, or heck even Tokyo riding a bicycle in the middle of the busiest road, pulling a huge cart behind it, and no one complaining. Here it is just a natural part of life, and one I thought was great.
It is very Chinese to see that. I was on the second ring road and even saw a guy pulling a cart behind some sort of mule (Will add that picture elsewhere). I love the idea of a taxi having to lag behind a guy pulling his cart on a bicycle and no one in the taxi being upset with the delay. It is just daily life, two people going about life in the way they do. It may be slow, but it works. And that is great, so much better than the rush of life in america.
But, bikes are everywhere and can even be rented through some hotels. If you are driving, they seem to have a sort of privilege on the roads, and get a lot of leeway from the drivers.
Traffic in Beijing is very congested in most areas with all manor of taxis, busses, and private cars now.
But there still are millions of bicycles in China's capitol city -- more than any other place on Earth. There are huge bicycle parking lots and most major streets have special lanes just for them. They are also ridden on the wide sidewalks so be careful, particularly if taking photos. The bikes have a habit of sneaking up on you if you're not careful!
Many bicycles are old and dilapidated. Many have been adapted for carrying cargo, etc. Watching the variety of bikes passing by is a passtime all by itself!
All over Beijing and China you will find lots of bycicles... there are so many of them that the parking lots for bikes can be found just almost everywhere.
Here's one on the Wanfujing street, downtown.
It is fascinating to see how traffic varies from country to country around the world. I’m sure that it is possible to write an entire book on the subject of driving patterns in different countries :-) China was certainly different than other countries that we have been to. Not only do you have to keep an eye out for other cars…you also need to keep an eye on all the pedestrians and cyclists. And let me assure you: there are quite a lot of bicycles in Beijing :-) The motorists and cyclists seem to have achieved some form of harmony because the cyclists seemed impartial to the somewhat dubious drivers next to them.
The Beijing drivers seem to think that the mirrors in the car are not for practical use. Cars change lanes without any hesitation (or indication) and it seems to be the car behind that needs to keep an eye out for this. Another fascinating thing is the use of the horn. After many rides in taxis I have reached a conclusion that there are at least three reasons for using the horn: the reactive horn use (you pulled out right in front of me and you are blocking me); the preventive horn use (don’t try to pull out in front of me…I’m coming with great speed and there is no room for you); lastly general horn use (there is so much traffic and I can’t change lanes or overtake any cars).
Confucius says: When in need of directions in Beijing, you must ask 5 people and hope 3 answers are the same.
There are two reasons for this phenomena:
1. There are many people in Beijing who just arrived from other little parts of this big country. They are just as lost as you are.
2. Chinese people typically would rather attempt saving face with a bad guess instead of admitting that they really don't have a clue, especially if they are proud local Pekingese.
On a hot day, one of the best places to sunbake is in the middle of a roundabout at a busy intersection. I saw one man doing this on one of my visits and was immediately taken by his determination to get a good tan.
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