MagazinesPost Magazine
SUNDAY MORNING

So near, yet so feared: life in the fast lane

Cecilie Gamst Berg

 

The purpose of this column is - apart from allowing me to re-live some of my most memor-able mainland moments - to illustrate how completely un-scary it is across the border for non-mainlanders.

I basically see the whole country, including police stations, as my own backyard, only with cheaper and better beer. I'm much more worried walking by myself in Oslo, Norway's capital, at night than I am in any given city on the mainland, staggering back to the hotel after a night of satisfying Chinese poker action.

But there's one thing about the mainland that absolutely terrifies me: being in a car driven by a so-called professional driver.

The last time I was in Guangzhou and took a taxi back to the train station, I felt I was in an action film such as Speed. Not only did the driver try to overtake every car and bus in his way, hurtling at full speed and swerving wildly between lanes before slamming on the brakes just before the red light, he also drove with one hand while using the other to hold the newspaper he was reading.

It was more than a little disconcerting, considering we were travelling along flyovers up to 40 metres above street level, but the driver looked hurt when I suggested he put his paper down.

But that was nothing, really. I've experienced crashes into traffic cones because the driver was busy texting, and I've spent more than one night on overnight buses keeping the driver awake between veers off the road. I've been in taxis trying to overtake trucks at the entrance of a tunnel, or other cars near the top of a steep hill, or at the beginning of a sharp bend.

These professional drivers (with the exception of truck drivers, who mostly drive well, probably because they carry valuable cargo and not humans) seem to think that nothing can happen when they are safely within their little metal universe and that other traffic is a nuisance to be conquered at all cost. As for safety belts, "No need! The fine is only one yuan."

The one time I actually felt quite safe in a car was in Tibet, driving across 5,000-metre mountains where one little mistake meant certain death. These roads are so narrow and dangerous that the drivers there dare not text or read.

But outside Tibet, give me the train any time. You don't have to keep an eye on the driver, there is a restaurant car that sells beer and you can go to the toilet whenever you want. Plus train accidents almost never happen. Almost.

Share

 

Send to a friend

To forward this article using your default email client (e.g. Outlook), click here.

Enter multiple addresses separated by commas(,)

For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive