I’ve had the chance to travel around a bit now. There are nine million bicycles in Beijing. Well, Katie Melua sings so anyway. It’s a fact; it’s a truth we can’t deny …apparently. I don’t know. I haven’t counted them. However, increasing numbers if people are now turning to other forms of transport, so overcrowding on the roads and the underground is incredible!
To get on the bus or the tube at rush hour, you literally have to breathe in and push. To get out, you need luck. To improve your chances, you must know when your stop is and edge toward an entrance at the right time. … The problem is, people crowd on before they let anyone off! This means you can quite easily be pushed back in the crush, and not actually make it out the door!! Once I just managed to squeeze my way out of a train (I’m telling you – it’s a good thing I’m thin) when I noticed that someone’s scarf had half exited with me. – There was no room for that person to raise their hand to stop their scarf escaping! Just as I left, the doors shut over the scarf, and I only had time to see a young lady looking sympathetic at the struggle I been through. I only hope she was also the owner of the scarf – and was therefore forgiving of that loss I had caused her.Car use is on the increase at a rate higher than the city can cope with. Bizarrely, I swear that some of the car designs are exactly the old bangers you sometimes see – except these are completely new! The brands of cars are not recognisable – but you do see the odd Jaguar so some people have good taste! 😉 I suppose the fancy car brands are here – BMW and Mercedes also. But what is the point? At rush hour toward central Beijing, it is often quicker to walk than to drive because the road structures just can’t take this volume of traffic. Pollution is high, so not only does a car add to the already dirty air, but also your beautiful car will never be clean! In Beijing, you make the car go forward by pressing the centre of the steering wheel – although unfortunately it also makes a loud noise.
That was a joke, obviously – it’s just that people in China are constantly beeping their horns! The way people drive is very different here. China is all about pushing in, and beeping your horn declares your presence so that no one pushes in front! I suppose it is a reasonable way of preventing people driving into you, because here, cars literally pull in front without warning! The roads aren’t particularly safe. It took me a while to notice that the buses often cut off their engines to free wheel down hill – with people crammed in like doomed sardines! Although maybe it’s the emptier buses that allow more room for flying bodies to land at their death! In any case, I stopped standing at the front.
I see more bikes parked together in Beijing than I do cars. Cycle lanes follow most roads, so you have to keep watch for these silent vehicles too when crossing a road! Bikes aren’t the kind you see in the West. There are no fancy gizmos, no suspension for those bad roads, or even lights. No one wears a helmet. However, there is an amazing array of bicycle styles. It was commonplace to see bicycles with open-back trailers. How these were packed was often a creative spectacle! Transportation of breakable china was the most impressive! There were bikes pulling ice-cream carts, bikes packed twice the height of the rider, bikes within a little cabin for two. Although motorised bikes were a scarcity.
Oh, and you know those clattering trucks you see from black and white pre-war films? I regularly saw those, in use, with my own eyes… They still exist, in full colour!