Wai Guo Ren (外国人) = Foreigner, and here in China, that’s what I am, of course. Before I go any further, though, I’d like to remind everyone that the content of this post is not a complaint but an explanation. I have ended some posts before with “Not bad, just different,” and that’s the way things are here: different. I am here to learn about Chinese culture so I can share it with my friends, family, and community and help create an understanding. I make this point here because I know that it is very easy for Americans to take any discussion of Chinese roads/driving negatively. So, just as a precautionary, preventative measure: Please remember to respect the Chinese people and their culture, which differs greatly from American culture. As cheesy and cliche as it sounds, we are all human, and although we look different on the outside, we really are all the same. 🙂
So now let’s get down to it. I’ve been here in Suzhou for a week (I can’t believe it’s already been a week!), and even though a lot of things are new and confusing, I’ve been enjoying myself. My host mom is a really good cook, and my host parents own a store where I usually sit and do my homework, which I love because there are so many people willing to help me. I sit there in my chair with my notebook writing whatever it is I’ve been assigned, and I get people looking over my shoulder, asking to see what I’ve written, and even coming by and taking my notebook up off my lap without asking, lol. I never take it as rude; in fact, I think it’s hilarious. They seem to think it’s funny, too, watching the blue-eyed, curly-haired foreigner study Chinese, creating grammatically awkward sentences and writing characters with the wrong stroke order. The one and only thing I don’t like about this situation is that all Chinese people seem to have a different idea of what the correct way is to write a sentence. I can copy something exactly from one of my parents’ employees and then show it to my friend and have him tell me, “You did this wrong.” It’s very confusing, but as long as in the end I have something that works and can remember A right way to do it, all is well, right?
Also, food. I learned this week that something my host family had for dinner on my first night here was eel. Yes, I ate it that first night. I didn’t know then what it was, didn’t ask, and didn’t want to know. The texture was a little bit funny, but it really was pretty good. I feel bad now, though, because now I know what it is, so I don’t want to eat it. I know that it’s all in my head, but I still wish nobody had told me what it was. As far as other food stories go, I can’t express how glad I am that my host family came to the conclusion that I don’t eat shrimp that still have their heads and that I rarely eat other fish at all, especially fish that are still intact. They can eat it all they want, and I’ll respect it, but after almost 2 decades of having my food’s head removed for me before it reaches the table… Well, old habits die hard.
And now finally, to get to address the remainder of this post’s title. The sad truth of it is that the number one killer in China is traffic accidents. Not lung cancer (from either smog or smoking cigarettes), not murder (violent crime is rare in China), but traffic accidents. I’m not going to deny that to you; I like to do my best to tell it as it really is. I will say, though, that I have spent a total (across 3 years) of 5 weeks in China so far and yesterday was the first time I’d seen a car accident in China, ever, and from what I could see, it didn’t even look fatal (and I hope it wasn’t). Anyway, I’ve kind of worked out what seems to be the pecking order on an average Chinese street:
1) Trucks and buses. Just don’t get in their way.
2) Taxis. They seem to think they’re at the top of this list. Riding in one can be reminiscent of a small roller coaster.
3) Cars driven by experienced drivers. They honk a lot, but they never seem to actually hit anything.
4) Cars driven by people learning to drive. They get honked AT a lot, poor people.
5) Motorized bikes. Faster than regular bikes and easier to maneuver than cars. You can see these being ridden down sidewalks, in the bike lanes (which are MUCH bigger and more pronounced than American bike “lanes”), and the part of the street designated for cars. So pretty much anywhere.
6) Regular bikes. Ridden in the same places as the motorized bikes. Not quite as fast but still conveniently maneuverable.
7) Pedestrians. Chinese drivers seem to think that pedestrians serve no purpose other than to be in the way. Pedestrians get honked at a lot. My classmates and I are amazed at many Chinese pedestrians’ ability to time their walking just right so that they’re just one step ahead of the cars.
Luckily for the poor pedestrians at the bottom there, the posted speed limit is often (at least in Suzhou) 40 or 60 kilometers per hour, which is roughly 25 – 40 mph. People here don’t seem to drive very fast unless the road is very clear, which it hardly ever is. Navigating the streets here takes practice.
Now that I’ve written you guys a novel, I probably need to go study for the Chinese test I have tomorrow. (Yes, a test already! It’s an INTENSIVE program!) Thanks for reading, and remember: Not bad, just different. 🙂