There Are Nine Million Bicycles In Beijing
When I first heard the Katie Melua song ‘9 million bicycles in Beijing’ I thought it was so beautiful. For me it’s dainty tune conjured up images of beautiful silk draped ladies, blossom trees and of course bicycles.
The bicycles glided elegantly along leafy streets as skyscrapers mingled with centuries old traditional buildings, painted in reds, golds and blues.
Beijing was not like that at all.
The bicycle part was right, I’m sure there are at least nine million! But they don’t glide anywhere: they compete with ten times as many cars, taxis and buses, on roads that sometimes split into eight lanes and move at pace in a noisy, smelly river of traffic. The traffic is one of the main features of the city and it kind of represents the way the people see life. Nobody wears a helmet when on a motorbike or bicycle and whole families sometimes cram onto one. We saw one lady speeding along the motorway with a toddler lying face down, clinging onto the seat behind her. In the taxis, seat covers prevent you from fastening your seat belt, but nobody wears them anyway.
The traffic lights are confusing. Green still means go but red means stop …..unless you really don’t want to. Cycle lanes mean nothing, crossings means nothing, even pavements mean nothing. The lowest member of the traffic food chain is the pedestrian. Whatever your mode of transport, little thought is given to your safety or that of others. Life is cheap.
Actually everything is cheap! A taxi ride, the equivalent of travelling from one side of London to the other, cost less than a fiver! But getting a taxi isn’t always easy. The taxis can’t be booked but must be flagged at the side of the road and if the driver doesn’t like the look of you (or can’t understand what you’re saying to him!) he’ll just say no and drive away.
They love their horns!!! Drivers beep instead of indicating, instead of slowing down and instead of avoiding people on the road. Well I suppose if you have a horn, you might aswell use it no?
We became pretty savvy after a couple of days. I only met one driver who spoke English so we’d ask the hotel staff to write down our destinations in Chinese before we left the building. I’d clutch that piece of paper like my life depended on it, because without it, who knows where we’d end up!?
By the time we left I knew how to say hello and market and something that almost passed for thank you….and I was proud of that!
This is Part Two, read Part One here