Monday, April 02, 2012

road rules

One of my favorite parts of living in Beijing is getting from point A to point B. No matter which form of transportation you take, it seems there are no rules, and if there are rules, they are meant to be broken, and if you keep your eyes open, you will pretty much always be entertained. Here is my breakdown of the various transportation methods, based on my ample two weeks of experience.

Taxi: Dirt cheap unless you are catching one in the touristy parts of town in which case if you are a white person the driver will refuse to use his meter and will charge you about three times what the actual cost would be, unless, apparently, you pretend to take a picture of his license to indicate you will report him to the authorities, in which case he will turn on his meter as required by law, a little trick of the trade I only learned after the fact. But still, my average cab ride is $2-5, so I ain't complainin'.

Rent a car and driver: I just learned that you can hire someone to take you somewhere, sit around and wait while you do whatever it is you're doing there for as long as you want to do it, and then take you home. For this service, you pay about $10 an hour. Some seemingly average Joes who work for American companies have their own personal, full-time cars with drivers. I cannot wrap my head around this fact.

Walk: A perennial favorite, walking allows one to get some exercise, chat with strangers, see old men out walking their guinea pigs, etc. The only problem with walking in Beijing is that the city is so freaking huge, you can walk for hours and not really get very far. That, and the fact that anything on wheels has the right of way, ALWAYS, and will not stop or even slow down for you. Supposedly, if you don't look the operator of the thing on wheels in the eye, he or she might stop, but I have yet to try this out, for obvious reasons. Also, many streets have so many lanes, getting across them is like playing Frogger. Which is scary but mostly kind of fun.

The bus: There is an obscene number of bus lines, so I haven't tried that one out yet, though some day I just want to get on one and see where it takes me/observe the behavior of fellow passengers, which I can only imagine is an experience in itself (and in unsanitary-ness).

Subway: I hear it's alright, but my apartment, though within the main urban area, is two miles from the nearest station. Have I mentioned how cheap the taxis are?

Bike: I cannot leave this city without riding a bike around, at least a little bit. Everyone rides them, from little kids to little old ladies, during windstorms and in the freezing cold. Pretty badass. No one wears a helmet, but at least there are dedicated bike lanes, complete with their own traffic lights. Of course, said lanes are also used by motorbikes, rickshaws, and the occasional disgruntled taxi driver.

Motorbike/scooter: The best of seemingly all worlds, motoring around Beijing allows one to see the city, avoid traffic, and get places in a reasonable amount of time. You ride in the bike lanes, for the most part, although if you want to get around something, just get right up on the sidewalk, it's no big thing. And in order to make a turn easier, you can just get in a lane going the wrong direction. I am way too scaredypants to drive one myself, but I am okay with hopping on the back of a friend's, closing my eyes periodically, praying to a god I don't believe in, and turning on my video camera*. Sorry, Mom.

*This is my first ever attempt at using iMovie. Move over Tarantino.

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