A Westerner's Perspective of Handling a Bike in Chongqing, China
Rule # 1
Be super aggressive. I mean … really super aggressive.
Rule # 2
Don't get road rage from the incessant honking. The car/bus/mototcycle/truck/undescribable motorized thingy drivers are just honking to let you know that they are near you, coming up on the left or the right and want you to be safe. They are not honking to get you out of their way. They are just being downright hospitable.
End of Rules
When I first arrived in Chongqing (a little backwater village of 31.7 million souls) in September of 2005, I was interested in getting a bicycle.
The locals shunned the idea. Too hilly, too hilly! Yes, it is a bit hilly here. Chongqing situated on the Yangtze River about 2500 km upstream from Shanghai is in an area of Karst topography.
Limestone bedrock being dissolved by underground waters for eons tends to form the terra firma into hills, caves and generally not the preferred countryside to land a 747. This does create a rather undulating topography but not much different than the Gaspe Peninsula or climbing up Meadowbrook Drive in Bedford, Nova Scotia.
So, I bought a bike.
It's a GIANT 15 speed with knobby tires, fenders, a carrying rack, a really neat bell and a bike stand. Coupled with a 2 gram helmet (different from my 1980 Bell helmet which weighs as much as a box of 3000 Tim Bits) and a set of tools, the cost was $124.25 CDN … no GST.
Traffic in Chongqing is akin to herding cats on steroids. But these cats have been Pavloved into believing that getting there first (wherever there is) is the sole objective of the exercise.
The painted traffic lines on the roads cost the Municipality of Chongqing $2.1 million CDN. The Municipality could have saved $2.1 million CDN.
The drivers are actually quite good. They are fast, very creative, and polite. Did I mention that they blow their horns a lot? Current statistics show a 1 honk per 0.2km ratio.
They have all graduated from the "Dukes of Hazard" Driving School right here in Chongqing.
Honda, Lotus and Ford all spend 6 weeks in Chongqing every Autumn recruiting F1 drivers.
There are current negotiations between the Chongqing Taxi Drivers Peoples Enclave (CTDPE) and the US Women's Champion Roller Derby Team from Wisconsin. The objective of these negotiations is to have a select few Chongqing taxi drivers travel to Wisconsin and teach the women skills in the areas of bumping, intimidation, doing U-turns in the middle of the track and of course honking.
The Roller Derby team has, at this stage, rejected proposals from the CTDPE to include a hacking and spitting component of this educational program.
After, 6 weeks of weaning myself into the local traffic flow I am now qualified to become a bike courier in Montreal the night the Montreal Canadiens win the Stanley Cup, the YES vote actually outnumbers the NO vote (God forbid), there is a 5 for 1 sale at Ben's, it's coming down freezing rain, and all the other drivers in the city have just joined the Separatist Party and have celebrated the YES victory by snorting copious quantities of Coke a la Andre Boisclair.
I wear a reflective vest, a flashing red light is attached to the rear of my helmet for those pre-dawn excursions and my Petzl lamp is appended to my forehead to make visible those others exercising their transportation rights who do not use their lights. (saving energy I guess).
I am becoming quite strong. I bike to and from school every day. It's about 23.4 minutes (book time) each way with some good hills along the way. I was preening my ego the other morning while "pounding" up a hill when a 73 year old man passed me on his 1 speed. He had a dead antelope tied across his back fender. I immediately stopped, leaned my bike on the side of a building, sat down and cried. I was not crying for the antelope.
On Sundays there seems to be a rather larger contingent of women taxi drivers. I believe it has to do with giving their husbands a break from driving, associated with their desire to enact the Chinese version of "Desperate Housewives" on the streets of Chongqing.
I thought the men were very good drivers. Not so.
The women take out their sexual frustrations and fantasies on the asphalt (actually all the roads are cement). Picture Phyllis Diller driving to an AA meeting while having extreme menstrual pain. You just know that she will bend the rules a bit.
In conclusion, driving a bike in Chongqing is not very different than cruising along the Confederation Trail in PEI. Just add the population of Canada, and varieties of motorized vehicles designed by Honda, Toyota, Hyundi, Ford, GM, Mercedes, BMW, Fiat, Peugeot, and a host of 3rd year Mechanical Engineering drop outs from the Ukraine, The Czech Republic, Monrovia and of course the local home grown techies from China.
I saw a Hummer the other day with red stars plastered all over it.
The Chinese government is in negotiations with the Canadian Armed Forces. They are planning to sell the Hummer to Canada. Actually it's a straight trade for the 3 recently purchased dry docked British submarines and a fleet of Sea King Helicopters. Way to go Canada!
Over and out from Chongqing, PRC. (that's the Peoples Republic of China)