You have to pity the city's crossing guards a bit, even when they wave their red flags at you because you're standing with one foot over the line as you wait to cross the street. What must it be like to spend your day at a job in which every single person with whom you interact is hell-bent on disputing, mocking or ignoring every single thing you tell them? One might ask why a city with a growing cosmopolitan and international reputation needs people to tell its fully grown residents how to cross the street. No doubt, posting citizens at many crossings helps employment figures. But there is no denying that Beijingers have, for lack of a better word, interesting interpretations of the rules of the road. So much so that even when there are two guards at a crossing - in addition to a traffic cop at the intersection's centre - things don't necessarily run smoothly. My non-scientific observations tell me that the intersections featuring the worst traffic snarls are often the most overstaffed. But every day, an army of uniformed traffic enforcers hits the streets in an attempt to control the pedestrian side of the 13 million people in motion. They generally don't try to control motor vehicles: indeed, it would be fantasy to believe that drivers would heed, or yield to, anything smaller than their own vehicles. But one's sympathy for the guards is inversely proportional to the extent to which they believe that their drab uniforms make them superior beings. You can spot the uberguards from afar: whistles never leave mouths; arms and flags flail in a constant state of motion. Their sunglasses are straight out of a 1980s police television drama, but even behind the dark lenses, you can feel their gaze just waiting - hoping - for someone to challenge their authority, to try their luck, punk. They rarely have to wait long. Beijingers have little time, patience or respect for the laws of pedestrian traffic. So a crossing guard's day is spent mostly waving the flag and blowing the whistle, attempting to counter the inherent programming that makes it impossible for citizens to come to a complete stop at a crossing - whether for a red light, an oncoming bus or the wrath of a crossing guard. But if the guards can't get people to heed their authority through their dance of shouting, pointing, whistling and throwing temper tantrums, they can easily make the pedestrians pay for their transgressions. They can signal the pack of walkers into the whirlpool of an intersection a moment too early, knowing full well that approaching right-turning cars, trucks and buses will not stop, and will scare the walkers back to the curb. And teach them the lesson that the guards could not.