Monday, October 23, 2006
Driver's Ed 101 or What I Learned This Weekend

After having the experience, within a single three day period, of being driven around in both a small city (Laiwu) and an overwhelmingly large metropolis (Shanghai) by everyone from private chauffeurs, to cabbies and bus drivers, I have learned to stop asking the following questions:
1) Who would buy a spitoon when there's a perfectly good window right next to you?
2) Why do they install turn signals on Chinese cars?

I also learned that the concept of “following distance” is truly overrated. I decided it would be fun to keep a tally of how many near-misses (or as George Carlin would say, near-hits) were managed over a three day period. It only counts if the vehicle in which I was being driven came within 2 inches of the other vehicle involved. The tally came to 87 and a quarter (that quarter is for one particular instance in which we weren't within 2 inches, but we were moving with such acceleration into the other car's side panel that it literally made me jump from my seat). Surprisingly enough, after a bit of digging, I found that there are a great many driving schools in China, although what they're accomplishing I have no earthly clue. But the driving instructors at these schools must have at least some influence on the drivers on the road. And so it made me wonder: what qualifies one to become an instructor?

WANTED: Males between the ages of 35 and 45 - must have no prior driving experience, smoke like a chimney, be able to spit every possible known bodily fluid out the window with perfect precision at high velocity, speak no better than broken Mandarin - unique and rare dialects from faraway provinces preferred. Driving test will include: avoiding unusual pack animals pulling large carts, forcing motorcyclists off the road without actually hitting them, weaving repeatedly across the lanes on both sides of the double yellow to assert dominance over your "driving territory," flashing your high beams into the rearview mirror of the car in front of you within one foot of said vehicle's driver-side panel, and going from zero km/h to 75 and back to zero in 4 seconds FLAT - no exceptions.

As a final note, for those of you who read my blog not for my sharp humor, critical eye, and poignant witticisms, but just to check up on how I'm doing, I had a wonderful time in Shanghai, thanks for asking. I actually remember a lot of the places I visited last time I was there - which I guess means Gang Gang didn't force me to drink quite enough baijiu - and the trip has made me strongly consider making Shanghai my next move after my work here in Laiwu is done.

The only sad thing was that the gigantic outdoor market we visited last summer, one of the highlights of our Shanghai trip, was closed down for selling too many "knock-offs" (actually, that's pretty much ALL they sold). But it turns out the police only enforce the closing down of these types of markets if they're outdoors. So now the vendors just sell their "merchandise" from warehouses scattered throughout the city which, I have to say, is extremely inconvenient. To that effect, I would like to write an open note to those wonderful men and women who helped to make my Shanghai experience so memorable:

Dear IP Police,

Thank you very much for your all your help in the war on fake Gucci purses and Bolex watches. The revenues of high-line fashion and accessory companies have clearly been depleted by the sale of fake designer goods and, through your actions, have obviously been ceded a major victory in the war against poor Chinese people who make a living selling defective merchandise in order to eat at least every three or four days.


P.S. I know that the safety of registered intellectual property rights helps to drive the economy and provides incentive for creativity and investment, so please don't send me angry comments as you would be wasting your time preaching to the one-person choir. I was just mad that I didn't get to spend the day yelling at Chinese salesmen in my best Chinglish in an attempt to haggle down prices on stuff I don't even want and that would likely fall apart the moment I stepped out of the marketplace. Ah, those truly were great times.

posted by Rachel @ 12:15 PM  
THE WILD WILD EAST: Everything you never knew you didn't know about life on the other side.
In China, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups. The Chinese, who call this land "home," and the expats who migrate here. My name is Rachel. I am an expat. These are my stories.
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