Friday, January 18, 2008

Adventures of a Taxicab Novice

I no longer fear death for I have rode in a Chinese cab.

I remember riding in a cab in Mexico City. It seemed as if the driver was willing to take excessive risks to get us rapidly to our destination. I now dream of those smooth, peaceful Mexico City cab rides.

If you are an adrenaline junkie, this is the place for you. I, however, did not feel my life was missing these experiences.

  1. Driving in the “Phantom” lane. What is the “Phantom” lane? It is that space that exists between the two cars in front of you. It can be accessed by straddling the lines, honking the horn, and pressing down on the gas pedal. There is also the “recommended lane” variation. If there are lines on the road, this is merely to provide suggestions as to where your car should be. It is perfectly acceptable to create new lanes as desired.
  2. The parking zone on the highway. When you are driving at high speeds on the highway and there is a split up ahead you quickly decide which way you are going to go and move that direction, right? Wrong. There is a third option that I was unaware of. Get in the middle lane and stop at the split. Don’t worry, there is room. The other cars will breeze gracefully by you as you sit in the middle pondering your travel.
  3. The “drive like a madman until you have no idea where you are then stop and ask for directions”. Okay, this is not completely unfamiliar, as all guys are known to drive around taking the occasional “shortcut”. The difference was the “ask for directions”. At seemingly random times you slam on the brakes, open the window, and yell at a passerby. You then have a rapid conversation (usually involving pointing at something you had hand written on a notepad), then you speed off down the road. You repeat this several times as necessary. I believe the object is to give your passengers motion sickness before you reach the final destination.
  4. The “No Eye Contact Zone”. Apparently there is an unwritten rule that states if you do not make eye contact then you can keep driving. Or maybe it is written, but it is in Chinese so I can’t understand it. The application of the rule is thus: If you make eye contact with a pedestrian, bike, or scooter you must let them go in front of you. If you do not make eye contact you may pretend they do not exist and keep going. This rule also makes for a fun game – street crossing. The objective is to see how many streets you can cross before getting hit by a car. The person that crosses the most streets wins.
  5. The secret horn signals. I have not deciphered the code yet, but I am working on it. As near as I can tell at any time you can honk your horn 3 short times then switch lanes. You do not need to look where you are going, the other drivers are sure to have heard the signal. I still need to figure out what two short honks, two long honks, and one long honk mean. (I suspect one long honk is similar to the middle finger, but have not verified this hypothesis as of yet). Note that there is a similar communication system that utilizes flashing your high beams. I have not deciphered this code either.
  6. Monitoring the tires while driving. Many luxury cars are now coming with systems that will monitor your air pressure. Cab drivers realize this is a luxury that could diminish their profit. They have devised an amazing alternative. When you come to a stop simply open the door and look out at the tires. This move instills confidence in your passengers as it shows attentiveness to details.
  7. Running red lights. At least not like they do here. If you are approaching a red light simply honk your horn, flash your high beams, and move through the cars/scooters/pedestrians in the intersection. Be sure not to make eye contact!
  8. Do Not Enter “Recommendations”. When you see a road that has a sign that would be interpreted as “Do Not Enter”, it really means “Turn here – this is a shortcut”.
  9. Finding the fast lane. Sure, you see people driving in the US that will constantly switch lanes because they are sure the other lane is moving faster. It usually does not work. But the Chinese cab drivers have a system that works. You drive in the middle – straddling the line. That way you can see exactly which lane is the fast lane.
  10. The compulsory cut-off. In China when you pass another car it is imperative that you also cut them off. I think it is a law.

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