Sunday, November 15, 2009

Crosswalk Rage

One (of many) peculiar and new experiences for me here in China is to be honked at angrily while walking or running in a crosswalk. I have been yelled at for jaywalking before, and for throwing flammable or combustible objects at passing cars, but in those cases I was in the wrong and the honk was justified. To be honked at in a crosswalk as a pedestrian with the right of way, though, seems wrong. The honks aren’t polite, friendly taps on the horn either. They are angry, blaring, prolonged honks that say, “How dare you walk on green, and in a crosswalk no less!”

My wife seems to endorse these reckless driving practices, what having lived in Los Angeles and all. She wouldn’t think twice about hitting me in a crosswalk, green light or not. But for a wide-eyed ingĂ©nue like me from rural Washington State (picture Bambi in Times Square), it comes as quite a shock. Even in New York, where cab drivers would sell their soul for a quicker route, I felt relatively safe in crosswalks, my safe haven in the surrounding chaos.

However, here in China there seems to be a sense of frantic urgency, and in a city of twenty million people it’s no wonder. If I were to wait until there was no one around to cross a street it would take me weeks to get home. And who has that kind of time? That said I still find it confusing to see a driver, eight cars back at a stoplight honking angrily at the lead car for not driving over the pregnant woman and her toddler son in the crosswalk.

The attitude feels to me, a slow-paced Westerner, like entitlement, a self-righteous attitude that I am more important than you. I have always felt that in order to justify being self-righteous one must be, well, right. One must be clearly in the right and another clearly in the wrong or self-righteousness isn’t valid. It’s sort of like the burglar who breaks into your house, steals your television and urinates on your favorite Persian rug and then sues you because your Pomeranian bit a hole in his jeans. What is that?

So to be honked at by an impatient driver who has a red light while I am walking in a crosswalk with the green walk symbol steams my veggies, a pet peeve of mine on par with automated help lines or blue tooth phones in restaurants. Most often when I get honked at I want to give the seemingly selfish driver a steely glare, intentionally slowing down in front of him in my passive-aggressive sort of way. Oh look, I need to tie my shoe. I don’t, of course, because I would get a mouthful of bumper, but I want to. After all, it’s my job to enlighten the Chinese people about cultural appropriateness in their own city, right?

I should add that after three months in Shanghai we have only seen one car accident. Maybe America should be taking driving tips from the Chinese. The chaotic nature of driving here seems no less culturally offensive than yelling, both an accepted and normal part of this beautiful and fascinating culture. It may never feel completely comfortable to me but I’m doing my best to blend in. So please don’t laugh at me if I run past you wearing a motorcycle helmet, elbow pads and shin guards.


Will said...

You should carry an air horn. Honk back and run fast... =) Excellent writing as usual!!

Kim said...

Bambi + "throwing flammable or combustible objects at passing cars" = hmmm, something doesn't add up! Do tell!