Sunday, December 10, 2006

Shanghai - customs

It’s too crowded to say sorry

The streets are packed with rushing people. If the citizens of Shanghai had the custom of apologizing to everybody they bumped into, their mouths wouldn’t get rest. The flow of conversation may be lost if you had to say sorry to every person you bumped into, which is bound to occur at least once every five minutes.

A typical crowded Shanghai street

Cover your mouth when you use a toothpick, says the Shanghai Lonely Planet…

…but you can spit on the ground, even if it’s indoors, and even if it’s carpet. At the Super Brand Mall, a modern eight story shopping centre where you can find one of Shanghai’s two Hooters, a lady at least had the decency to spit in the rubbish bin instead of the polished floor. There is progress for you. A “hhrrrruuuuugggghhhhhh” sound still preceded her spit though.

Photos alone will not do justice in capturing the essence of Shanghai. You need to record the sounds of people spitting and the constant beeping of horns. It’s not as smelly as Malaysia, but it smells like an Asian grocery street or Chinatown in any Western city.

Red means go

Cars, buses and trucks will NOT stop for pedestrians. This is when your dodgeball skills come in handy. Supposedly, if vehicles had to stop for everyone crossing at a green pedestrian light or zebra crossing, they would be waiting forever because there are so many people crossing the street (duh, China has the largest population in the world). Green pedestrian lights run for longer than they do in Melbourne - at least three times longer than Flinders and Swanston Street crossing, one of the busiest intersections in Melbourne. There is even a timer at each pedestrian crossing. It did feel like pedestrians were given more time to cross the street than the cars though, so maybe that’s why the drivers were so impatient. The locals are desensitised to horns because they are tooted so frequently. So if you are crossing the street and a bus is inching towards you and beeping, just ignore it. I wouldn’t be surprised if crossing the street was one of the most common killers in Shanghai. I couldn’t relax on my trip because I was walking around trying not to get run over or spat on. Walking on foothpaths was not safe either, as motorbikes would often speed onto them to overtake the cars on the street.

Cars going through a green pedestrian crossing.

The proper way of driving in Shanghai is to go as fast as you can while continuously overtaking cars and changing lanes, so you can get to your destination in the quickest time possible. In one taxi ride, the driver attempted to squeeze through two buses that were in ADJACENT LANES. He saw a gap between the buses and took it.

I’ve never been so scared of buses in my life. They speed and take sharp turns. I had the cheaper option of riding in a bus to the airport, but I chose a cab instead. I had too many pretty leather bags to show off back home to risk crashing in a bus in Shanghai on the way to the airport.

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