BEND IT LIKE BEIJING
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Sat, Jun 24, 2006
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
Within minutes of leaving Beijing International Airport in the front seat of an Audi A8, I hear the sound of the car's horn on the freeway. Several minutes after we exit the freeway, I hear the car's horn again. I take note of it, but I don't understand or appreciate its significance at the moment. I'm weary from my inaugural 12-hour non-stop flight from San Francisco International Airport. Cramped seating, airplane air, airplane food. It's Tuesday, 5:30 p.m., Beijing time. My body and wristwatch say it's Monday, 2:30 a.m., Pacific Standard Time. I feel myself turning into a pumpkin seeing the "foreigner" sign at airport customs, reminding me what I already know. I'm nothing more than an ABC FOP (American Born Chinese Fresh Off the Plane), a mere Beijing bumpkin who just as well could have arrived in the capital city from the rural country on the bed of a tofu truck. The more polite term in Mandarin is "Meiguo ren", or American. The only thing keeping this Meiguo ren functioning at 2:30 a.m. is the excitement and anticipation of this long awaited first time visit to the People's Republic of China. The driver is a Beijing native, a close friend of my host family who only speaks Mandarin, the national language of China. I'm dependent on my nieces and her husband who speak Mandarin, Cantonese, and English. My only contribution to the trilingual cacophony is when an English word is unknown, or when I periodically rejoice understanding a word or two of Cantonese. Other than walking and riding the bus, my mode of transportation was riding in the backseat of a China made Jin Bei sedan and passenger van. We travel throughout the city's urban and rural districts to shop, eat, and visit historical sites. We also negotiate the narrow maze of alleys and passageways in the enduring historical hutong settlements. I take advantage of riding in the back seat to see what the locals drive. My observation is purely random and non-scientific. The alphabetical list is for organizational purposes only: Buick (Excelle, Regal, Sail), China (Chery, Jin Bei, Junghua Jiang, Xiale), Chrysler Shanghai GLX, Jeep Cherokee, Daewoo Paar, Fiat (Palio, Siena), Honda (Accord, Odyssey, CRV), Hyundai (Elantra, Feline, Sonata, Tuscan), Kia Cerato, Mazda (6, 323), Nissan (Bluebird, Cefro), Toyota Corolla, and VW (Bora, Jetta, Passat, Santana).
There are few American sightings. Asian and European models seem to predominate. I may have been predisposed to VW, owning one and reading an article from a major wire service before the trip about the 2006 launch of the Sagitar (China's version of the new Jetta) in Shanghai. VW penetrated the China market 20 years ago. It is looking to regain market share by taking advantage of China's booming economy and targeting Chinese yuppies with the Sagitar. I took note of the newest VW Passat on display at Beijing International. I also saw one of the few advertisements in the apartment complex I stayed at, touting VW's sponsorship of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. My observation is that honking is just a part of life, a necessity given Beijing's sheer mass of humanity mixed equally with a full multi model environment of pedestrians, cars, trucks, buses, taxis, motorcycles, bicycles, horses, and subway. With the exception of the subway, all modes of transportation compete for space on the same road, street, freeway on ramp and exit, shoulder, and alley. Sometimes this means there is only enough room for one way traffic, even though there are cars going in both directions at the same time. Being in Beijing during the seven-day holiday for International Workers Day (May 1st) magnifies the situation even more. I don't know if honking is on the driver's test, but it's a driving skill you better master. You need to be alert, focused, and assertive. If you hesitate, are tentative, or unsure, even if you do know how to drive, you lose. After two weeks of cultural immersion on another continent 5,000 miles away from home in the back seat of a car, I relish the feeling of getting back behind the wheel of my stick-shift turbocharged Passat. Traffic was light on the familiar drive home. I take a deep breath of the refreshingly cool ocean air crossing the Golden Gate Bridge with the windows down. I begin to relax and mentally transition back to the real world. Beijing still fresh on my mind, I instinctively reach for the horn to honk for Beijing.