At the present moment, i can’t think of anything more exciting, nerve-wrecking and unpredictable than crossing streets in Shanghai and Beijing. Of course, it is very exciting to try to openly pee on the statue of Chairman Mao at the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, but the result of that particular action is very predictable – you will be busted and sent to hard labor for years. Crossing streets in Shanghai/Beijing is a totally different animal. I liken that to playing the Russian Roulette. You will never know – i have not figured that part out yet – if the drivers/motorcyclists/cyclists are going to stop and let you walk past them, or if they are gunning for it. Oh yeah, and this is when you have the full right of way.
Where i come from, the “green man” on the light means i can safely cross the street without having to worry about vehicles barreling down on me. But the “green man” here in Shanghai/Beijing seems invisible to the drivers. Cars cut in front me, barely missing me, and cars drive right behind me as i am crossing the streets. I have seen cars driven through a whole crowd of pedestrians, and surprisingly, hitting no one. I am trying my hardest to follow all the traffic rules that i know of, but i have to admit, it is really difficult when no one else seems to be doing the same thing.
Crossing the streets in Beijing also has an added bonus of not knowing when the “green man” is going to turn red. So far, i have witnessed only one traffic light in which the “green man” actually blinked twice, yes twice, before turning red. The rest of the lights simply turn red from solid green – no blinking whatsoever. The first time the “green man” turned red on me, i was halfway across a major intersection near the Beijing train station. At that exact moment, the only thing that was going through in my mind was if i should continue crossing the street or if i should turn back. In the end, i ran. I ran like you have never seen me run before. I do not know why most of the traffic lights in Beijing behave in this manner, but my best guess is that this is the way the Chinese government trains its athletes for the 100-meter run – if i have to do that every time i cross the street, i am quite certain that in no time i will be able to participate in the Olympic 100-meter run 🙂