Archive for November, 2010

Bicycles Lanes

November 19, 2010

“Bikes Lanes to be constructed in Wuhan” ran the headline in the English language news website a few months back. Given the fact that China has had bike lanes for quite a while, I’m not really sure why this warranted a story,. You might as well write “London to construct roads”. Wuhan had bike lanes before they really had any cars (and consequently were of little use since you could ride the bike wherever you felt like it without running the risk of being hit by an inattentive motorist). Nowadays that’s all changed, bikes are for losers such as myself; anyone with status drives a car, or rather sits in a stationary queue of traffic.

Journalists love to write sloppy articles about China, slotting in clichéd phrases about economic miracles and the sleeping dragon awakening and slapping in a photo of a traffic jam on the second circle in Beijing for good measure. Truth is, traffic jams in Beijing are nothing compared to Wuhan. Stand on any major thoroughfare in Wuhan at 5pm on a weekday and I’ll show you a traffic jam son. Things have got so bad I don’t even try riding my moped at that time of day; at least I can pick up and carry a bicycle over my head between the cars.

But as I mentioned above, as the economy has taken off, bicycle usage has plummeted so, aside from an all expenses paid trip to Europe to see how it was done (and one more stop off in London to see the wrong way to do it), it was a mystery to me what exactly they were hoping to gain.

I’d all but forgotten about the scheme until the bicycle lane chain gang arrived outside the hospital last week. Efficient and Mechanized were two words that didn’t immediately spring to mind, Three guys in a beaten up microvan pulled up, talked on the phone for a while and after an hour or so, slowly got out, stretched, stood around, scratched and spat and then sauntered around to the back of the van to stare at the contents in back. Around 10.30 they finally swung into action and began piling up a large number of unmarked yellow cans next to the van and hurling several sacks that might have contained rice on to the ground, until one of them split open from the force of impact, spraying red sand across the pavement.

I went downstairs to investigate. They prised off the lid just as I showed up, sending a strong odour wafting through the air that brought back memories of making 1/72nd scale Airfix models of spitfires, hurricanes and (my personal favourite) the Messerschmitt me109. A major difference was that whereas we had little tubes of cement to glue the bombs to the underside of the fuselage of the Lancaster, these guys were working in units of 10L and one of them was leaning over an opened canister with a fag in his mouth. I retreated to the relatively safety of my office, knowing that any mishap on their part would be announced with a fireball that would probably blow past my window on the top floor.

When I set out for lunch thirty minutes later, they had managed to get some kind of system going and work their way a couple of hundred yards down the road. One guy was painting the glue onto the roadway, while the second guy scattered the red sugar over the top. The smell of the cement was overpowering. The third guy stood on the pavement working his thumb up his nose and then using the same hand to send text messages on his phone.

When I returned after a couple of hours (we get decent lunch breaks in China) the third guy had got his finger out his, er, nose and was carefully laying down a white line over the top of the white line that was already there when they first marked out the bicycle lanes in the city several years ago. The headline should have read “Wuhan to paint bicycle lanes red”.

By the evening, their attention to detail had visibly waned. I wasn’t sure whether it was the toxic fumes or the consequence of liquid bender over a late lunch, but the line demarcating the bicycle lane from the rest of the traffic deviated significantly from a straight line and looked like something that would be better fitted by a high order polynomial function.

It didn’t really matter. The next morning after the glue had dried and the traffic cones removed, drivers seemed to think the bright new surface marked out a new parking area. Within minutes the bicycle lane outside the hospital was choked with empty cars, forcing cyclists out into the road and increasing the likelihood of them coming through our doors as new customers.

Me? now I just ride on the pavement.

an earlier effort before the fumes had their full effect


Meeting Across the River

November 6, 2010

I have to say I never thought I’d see the day when I’d find myself cruising the streets of Beijing while sitting in the back of a military vehicle. It wasn’t so much a humpity bumpity army truck as a leather upholstered one. I also noticed the driver had a book on Jiang Jieshi (or Chiang Kai Shek if you happened to study O level history with the modern China option back in the late 70s). I seem to recall that old Jiang wasn’t exactly the flavour of the month over here, but given we were weaving back and forth between lanes on the fourth circle in a fitted out Buick, I supposed I couldn’t read too much into the apparent contradiction..