Of motorways and traffic hazards
Since we have been in China – a week and a half now – I have been reminded of a conversation that took place in Form 4 Latin in a class taken by David Thurlow, our Social Studies teacher back in the distant past of my youth. He was trying to impress on his class the difficulties of farming in the Gisborne – Hawkes Bay ranges because of the mountainous terrain. One bright lad named John put his hand up and asked why they didn’t just bulldoze the hills down. I recall Dave Thurlow spluttering with exasperation.
Something of that thinking pattern seems to operate here quite well. It’s not so much that the mountains are bulldozed down; rather the motorways go straight over or under whatever is in the way. Huge viaducts over cities and industrial areas, long tunnels, often of 4 or 5 kilometres in length, through mountains, and great bridges spanning deep valleys. Construction of motorways and fast train tracks is part of the landscape. Several days ago we travelled from Wuzhou to Yangso on amazing motorways covering many kilometres in just a few hours. Yesterday we did 400 kms from Sanjiang to Guiguang; the first 200 were done on second grade roads and took about 5 hours plus stops, the second 200 took about 2 ½ hours. From the point of view of interest the second grade roads win hands down, but to cover China’s huge distances the motorways are wonderful.
Martin needs a medal for his exploits in the city traffic. All the reasonable hotels are in cities, so there is no way to avoid the traffic. Maurice with his racing car expertise is in his element. Today, going to an old walled restored town, there were always 4 lanes to cope with; sometimes they became 5 or even 6 lanes. For 6 kms we crawled along for over an hour at about 10 kms an hour, with everyone trying to better his position by constantly changing lanes. Tauranga knows nothing of this type of congestion – I hope it never does! Yesterday our guide got a taxi to drive before us into the city to find our hotel and today a guardian angel in a little red car agreed, at the guide’s request, to drive before us for some kilometres to show the way.
We have a guide with us all the time. In Guangdong (used to be Canton) Province we had Steven and now in Guangxi and Guizhou we have Qin, pronounced Chin. In NZ, the idea of a guide seemed restricting but here you quickly realise that in order to drive (to survive!) it is an absolute essential. There is little in the way of English signs and few people are competent in English. Radio contact between Bilbo and Heehaw helps a lot, especially if the lead vehicle gets separated from the other. We also have radios between the guide and the other car so that directions and tourist info can be shared. Martin and I also try to pray over the day and the driving, inviting the Lord’s protection.
Tooting is an ever present feature of Chines driving, usually used as a warning: you are coming too close to my vehicle, that’s my lane you are trying to cut into, watch out, I’m coming through. In some areas there are no tooting signs, but as I write now in our room on the 17th floor, I can hear the city traffic tooting below us. Martin took about two days to join the tooting brigade, finding it very handy as he makes his way in the traffic. Most days we see one or more traffic accidents, so we realise that driving is a hazardous occupation.
We also see fights – shouting, fists and all. Yesterday as we left the motorway, we first had to pay the toll. Usually there are a number of toll booths but on this occasion there was only one, causing cars to jostle for position in the queue. One car was determined to shove in and everyone else closed ranks, resolute that he was not going to push in. Fortunately we were onlookers to action, several cars back in the queue. The end result was the guy pushing damaged two good quality cars, with much shouting and anger. As we left, the police were involved and the culprit was sitting cowering in his car with the windows up.