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As I walk the streets and roam the web of China, I share snapshots from my fieldwork on Bytes of China. My list of longer thought pieces can be found on my Writing Page

I am currently living in China, following students and migrants as they process information and desire, remaking cities and rural areas. I investigate media and memes in their collisions with markets, governments, and local thugs.   [More about Bytes of China.]

Here's a video of the most recent talk I gave about my research at LIFT in Geneva, Switzerland, "Dancing with Handcuffs: The Geography of Trust in Social Networks". In this talk, I analyze the changing conceptions of trust through the story of a college student who threw shoes and eggs at the government official who oversees internet censorship in China. 

Read more about my research. My analysis of culture and technology can be found on Cultural Bytes. And my personal blog is Hi Tricia.

The views expressed on this blog do not in any way reflect the position of any of my funders, past employers, the Chinese government, the US government or the Fulbright program. 

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Wednesday
May182011

Some tips for surviving in any city where the transportation can be a litlle messy.

 

construction

Transportation in some second tier cities is still a major work in progress. In my city, Wuhan, roads are being torn apart to create the new subway system that will be finished in 3 years. The government is also building new highways, bridges, and canals. Incredible water engineering feats will be accomplished - East Lake will be connected to the Yellow River.

It's impossible to avoid traffic or dust. With that being said, it's also incredibly difficult to flag down a taxi here. There is a shortage of available taxis. It's almost just as hard to get on the bus. Bus drivers are short tempered with the traffic and uneven roads. And on top of that scooters are anxious to weave in and out of traffic, people, and bicyclists  - so you could get run over anytime.

I have been to a lot of Chinese cities and spent quite some time in Beijing as it was building its subway - but no place compares to Wuhan for having the most horrendous traffic and transportation system - ever, ever, ever. It often feel like someone decided to splatter holes all over the road just to see which taxi or bus would fall into it first.  Or perhaps some govt official created a game called "miss the pot-hole" and we're all being held hostage in a game that we can't win. But this is also what makes this city so nitty and beautiful - I think I'll miss all the mismanaged road consruction projects in a few years.

Here are some taxi, train, bus, bicycle, and pedestrain tips for surviving in any city where the transportation can be a title messy.

First, download this web browser, UC 浏览器, on your smart phone. Use this app to plan out all your transportation needs and it's also a great web browser!

Second, fights happen quite often between taxis, cars, motorcyclists, and pedestrians. It's ok - people are used to it. Just step away from the scene.

Third, this is the hierarchy that you must follow if you want to understand the rhythm of local traffic - buses, taxis, motorcycles, scooters, privately owned cars, bicycles, people. This is the implicit knowledge of traffic that holds the entire city together when everyone is on the road together. You must follow it if you don't want to be crushed.

Taxi

  • In Wuhan, taxi drivers will scream at you. 50% of the time they aren't really screaming - they're just talking. The other 50% of the time they really are screaming at you. It's hard to tell the difference. Taking a cab in Wuhan will make you miss the civil cab drivers in Beijing.
  • Cab drivers will not answer back in putonghua; they answer back in the local Wuhan dialect.  I've learned how to speak conversational Wuhan dialect and understand them.
  • If you are going a short distance that may be a 10-15 minute walk but need to get there as soon as possible, don't actually tell the cab driver because they won't find it worth their time to take you. Tell them that you need to go somewhere farther and then pretend to get a phone call that requires you to get off the cab asap.
  • If after running an errand at Walmart or Carrefour and you are carrying stuff like big house stuff or lots of grocery bags, no cab will stop for you. You must hide your stuff behind a car and only carry 1-2 bags in your hand, flag a cab down, open the door and put one bag in the car, and then ask them to open the trunk. 
  • Cab drivers have some of the most amazing knowledge of the city. Always find a way to speak to them about their past if you can. They will tell you so much about their life and the changes in the city. 
  • If you complain about the traffic WITH the cab driver by showing your surprise at how bad the jam is, it will be a good way to bond with them because you are empathy and sharing the frustration.
  • Sit in the front seat, it makes having a good conversation easier
  • It may seem like the cab driver's driving style doesn't appear to diminish the chances for accidents, but know that they want to avoid them as much as possible also. They have a total of 12 points and each accident deducts 2 points. They have to go through a lot of trouble if they use up their 12 points and for most drivers this means they can't drive again.
  • If you know that you'll be stuck in traffic for a long time like on a rainy day, find a black cabbie. They will give you a better deal than the cab driver.
  • Try to find a few good black cabbies that you trust to take you across the river to Hankou. This will save you money and time. Many drivers are unwilling to go to Hankou and the other way around.
  • Be prepared to be ripped off by all cabbies - it's just a part of the deal of getting to know the city. Once you know it, you will be able to tell them that they are going the wrong direction.
  • the difference between black cabbies and regular cabbies is that the regular ones definitely have insurance (if you were to be in an accident), have a camera (on top right part of windshield), and can give you a receipt. I find that black cabbies are way cleaner and most of the nicer cars carry insurance for the driver and the passengers.

if you want to live, go for the honkers

  • Fear for your life if your cab driver is silent. Alert cab drivers honk like the car is about to explode! Honking is a sign of complete mental awareness of one's physical surroundings - it's part of the transportation language that says, "hey get out of my way, or ELSE I will run you over!" The cab drivers who don't honk are the ones you need to worry about. The non-honkers just think silently to themselves, "anyone who is in my way I will run over."
  • The real concern for your life are not the cabs, but the scooters. Scooters will run your foot over and keep driving off. They will ram their mirrors into your shoulders, dent up the computer in your bag as they drive by without even stopping. AT least if a cab or car hits you they have to find a way to drive off quick enough without you writing down their license number and with traffic being such a big problem, it's hard for cars to just drive off that easily. But scooters aren't slowed down by cabs. So watch out for the scooters!

Bus

  • Buy a bus card! The price difference can be 75%. Here you can buy a bus card from stands on the streets - just ask around and everyone knows the closest place to buy it. You will need to put a deposit down for the card (like 20RMB - you get back when you return the card) and then add $ to your card by going to a grocery store that has this service. Every city has the official "bus adding money" grocery store. In Wuhan, it's 中百超市 - zhong bai chao shi.
  • If you want to ride the bus, use these websites for helping you map out your route: 8684 and Aibang Bus
  • But to actually get on the right bus is another feat to conquer. Although you may have found the correct bus to get on, the next goal is to get on it as it is coming by. Buses don't always come to a full stop and they won't go into the bus lane. You have to spot the bus ahead of time and guess down to the last second where it is going to stop  - in which lane and how far from the stop it will stop. If you don't guess correctly, most bus drivers will stop if you wave them down and get in FRONT of the bus so that is forces them to stop. Good luck!
  • If the bus is super full, swipe your bus card and then say, 往后上 (Wǎng hòu shàng)and then get run to the second door in the back. 
  • And if you get your phone or wallet stolen on the bus, just say oh well, you gave the theif an opportunity to steal it. If you always keep your belongings in a place that's not easy to steal then it won't get stolem. My #1 tip is to avoid wearing backpacks. Wear the purses that sling over one shoulder so that you can always position your purse in front of you with your hand on it.

Train

  • I use Aibang train and Baidu search to find train times. In Baidu, just enter your starting point, then the character 到 (dao), and then the destination。If that doesnt work, add the words 火车 (huoche) to the beginning
  • and I use these sites to locate how many empty seats are left on a train - it works much better for Dong (D) class trains: KunXin 
  • but train tickets from a local train seller in your city. Or you can do it online and pay 20RMB for it to be delivered to you Ganhuoche
  • if you really need to get somewhere and there are no more tickets, just buy a ticket to anywhere on the route just to get yourself on the train. Then exchange the ticket later on the train for your actual destination. You can also buy a zhang piao (standing ticket) and exchange it later for a better ticket.
  • Traveling during any national holidays is just a bitch. There's no way around it. People fight, people push, people scream. And there is a dearth of tickets which means many people are desparate to go home to see their families.  It's quite sad that with all the more expensive trains, migrants are unable to afford the tickets to go home. Even going home once a year is very costly. Keep that in mind as you are traveling during holidays.
  • if you get a wopu (sleeping) ticket, wear or brings socks and wear shoes that are easy to slip in out of. This is especially important if you sleep on the 2nd or 3rd level where you will need the climb the ladder.
  • Bring a good thermos for overnight train rides.

Bicycling

  • again, be scared of the scooters! they are crazy
  • get a mouth cover, you will need it because of all the dust that will fly into your face. I suggest to do it in style.
  • get a big, light hat to cover the sun from your eyes in the summer
  • buy the cheapest, ugliest bike ever and no one will steal it. I prefer to get a second hand bike for around 100RMB
  • Dont' bike drunk - this is when you are most likely to be run over
  • bicyclists don't have to wear lights at night time, be aware that cab drivers are not able to see you so you much be prepared at all times to be hit - so that means bike on the defensive and never assume that anyone sees you
  • and please Americans - don't wear your freaking ipod when you are biking! you need to hear the sounds to that you can properly bike defensively!

walking

  • there is only one tip for walking - that is the most hazardous part of pedestrain life are the hundreds of umbrellas that could poke your eyeball out. This can happen while you are walking on the street or just standing at a bus stop; women will run past you with their umbrellas and not even bother to lift it above people's heads. Umbrella injuries are most common in the summer. My advice is that when someone runs into you with their umbrellas and seriously hurts you,  find a way to grab it in the confusion and break it  - women pay a lot of money for their precious umbrellas to keep their skin white but they need to learn how to stop hurting others in the process.
  • when you cross the road it's just not worth it to wait for a cross walk or even an intersection - cars don't obey all the rules anyways so it's not ANY safer to cross at a crosswwalk or intersection. The key is that if you are going to cross the middle of the street with cars coming at you, you want to take it one lane at a time. Just make sure your toes don't get run over. I suggest that you cross with locals the first few times to get a hang of it.

 so what are your tips for surviving transportation?

References (20)

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  • Response
    Some tips for surviving in any city where the transportation can be a litlle messy. - Bytes of China - Tricia Wang [ethnographer & sociologist researching cellphones and computers in China & Mexico]
  • Response
    Some tips for surviving in any city where the transportation can be a litlle messy. - Bytes of China - Tricia Wang [ethnographer & sociologist researching cellphones and computers in China & Mexico]
  • Response
    Some tips for surviving in any city where the transportation can be a litlle messy. - Bytes of China - Tricia Wang [ethnographer & sociologist researching cellphones and computers in China & Mexico]
  • Response
    Some tips for surviving in any city where the transportation can be a litlle messy. - Bytes of China - Tricia Wang [ethnographer & sociologist researching cellphones and computers in China & Mexico]
  • Response
    Some tips for surviving in any city where the transportation can be a litlle messy. - Bytes of China - Tricia Wang [ethnographer & sociologist researching cellphones and computers in China & Mexico]
  • Response
    Some tips for surviving in any city where the transportation can be a litlle messy. - Bytes of China - Tricia Wang, Global Tech Ethnographer transforming research, specializes in China & emerging markets
  • Response
    Some tips for surviving in any city where the transportation can be a litlle messy. - Bytes of China - Tricia Wang, Global Tech Ethnographer transforming research, specializes in China & emerging markets
  • Response
    Some tips for surviving in any city where the transportation can be a litlle messy. - Bytes of China - Tricia Wang, Global Tech Ethnographer transforming research, specializes in China & emerging markets
  • Response
    Response: www.vouchercode.io
    Some tips for surviving in any city where the transportation can be a litlle messy. - Bytes of China - Tricia Wang, Global Tech Ethnographer transforming research, specializes in China & emerging markets
  • Response
    Response: try here
    Some tips for surviving in any city where the transportation can be a litlle messy. - Bytes of China - Tricia Wang, Global Tech Ethnographer transforming research, specializes in China & emerging markets
  • Response
    Some tips for surviving in any city where the transportation can be a litlle messy. - Bytes of China - Tricia Wang, Global Tech Ethnographer transforming research, specializes in China & emerging markets
  • Response
    Response: Rp-Republic.Com
    Some tips for surviving in any city where the transportation can be a litlle messy. - Bytes of China - Tricia Wang, Global Tech Ethnographer transforming research, specializes in China & emerging markets
  • Response
    Some tips for surviving in any city where the transportation can be a litlle messy. - Bytes of China - Tricia Wang, Global Tech Ethnographer transforming research, specializes in China & emerging markets
  • Response
    Response: laurabassi.it
    Some tips for surviving in any city where the transportation can be a litlle messy. - Bytes of China - Tricia Wang, Global Tech Ethnographer transforming research, specializes in China & emerging markets
  • Response
    Some tips for surviving in any city where the transportation can be a litlle messy. - Bytes of China - Tricia Wang, Global Tech Ethnographer transforming research, specializes in China & emerging markets
  • Response
    Some tips for surviving in any city where the transportation can be a litlle messy. - Bytes of China - Tricia Wang, Global Tech Ethnographer transforming research, specializes in China & emerging markets
  • Response
    Response: www.kopage.com
    Some tips for surviving in any city where the transportation can be a litlle messy. - Bytes of China - Tricia Wang, Global Tech Ethnographer transforming research, specializes in China & emerging markets
  • Response
    Some tips for surviving in any city where the transportation can be a litlle messy. - Bytes of China - Tricia Wang, Global Tech Ethnographer transforming research, specializes in China & emerging markets
  • Response
    Some tips for surviving in any city where the transportation can be a litlle messy. - Bytes of China - Tricia Wang, Global Tech Ethnographer transforming research, specializes in China & emerging markets
  • Response
    Some tips for surviving in any city where the transportation can be a litlle messy. - Bytes of China - Tricia Wang, Global Tech Ethnographer transforming research, specializes in China & emerging markets

Reader Comments (2)

For critters from outer space who can't read Chinese or speak it (especially Wuhan hua) : in Wuhan I found that one survival trick on bus routes was to write down every bus number at the starting bus stop. Wherever I wound up, I knew that finding a bus with any of these numbers would sooner or later (often later!) get me home. Cheap city maps also sometimes show bus numbers along major roads.

June 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThor May

What a great survival guide! I was born in Wuhan and go back to visit every few years, but I never had to really figure out the order things and try to make sense of the chaos. The bus and taxi definitely owns the road. Maybe because I can yell back in wu han hua I don't notice the madness as much, and even become a part of it when I attempt to drive there... All your observations are definitely on the spot. I'll make good use of this guide next time I go visit. Enjoy your stay!

August 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

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