Posted November 2nd, 2011 by Justin in Hangzhou, China
Something that has always scared me since I’ve started studying here is riding a bike. Back home I thoroughly enjoy riding my bicycle. I will ride that thing everywhere, regardless of the weather or traffic conditions. Here in Hangzhou this is a different story.
Four days a week I go to a daycare to teach English. I have two ways of getting
there. One is to ride the bus. The other is to ride a bike. I tried out both options during the first week and found that the bus ride took longer than the bike ride. Also I just prefer to ride a bike over taking the bus. So now every day that I go to the internship I ride a bike. It has got to be one of the scariest things I have ever done and continue to do. Riding a bike in Iowa City, IA is a pleasant and joyful experience. The air is fresh, the sky is blue, and there few cars on the road and even fewer bikes. This trend does hold for the city of Hangzhou. Riding a bike here is terrifying and often times a near death experience. There is no blue sky; this would be a rare occurrence. The air smells of the industrial might of China, not thousands of acres of corn. Here there are a lot of cars and even more bikes, but not just bicycles. There are mopeds, e-bikes, rickshaws, scooters, and regular bicycles. All of these fit into one lane that is the same size as a regular lane for cars. There are so many bikes that during rush hour you are constantly riding next to someone and fearing that if you twitch slightly you will collide with the person next to you, in front of you, behind you and somehow on top of you; well, maybe on top of you. Riding in this small lane is very difficult but it does not compare to riding across an intersection.
Sometimes when I am stopped at an intersection I contemplate whether or not I should even try to cross it. For starters, the light turns green for bicycles only; but of course this is only at the large intersections and most cars don’t follow this rule. Even though the light is green for bikes you still fear that you will be hit by other bikes from the opposite side of the road. This is because when the bike light turns green for let’s say east and west traffic, the green light for going straight is not the only light that is activated. In addition to this the turn light is also green. So, if I am trying to continue straight across the intersection I also have to watch out for bikes that are going perpendicular to my path, because apparently when the traffic lights were installed this was deemed not hazardous at all. Apart from this you also must be cautious of the cars. At every intersection cars are also turning, and in order to get to the next road they must cut across the bicycle path. It would be nice if drivers did not attempt to turn when the bike light is green, but they do not do this.
Regardless of the color of the light, cars will still try to cut through the throng of bikes. I have witnessed several people on bikes and scooters be “bumped” by a car trying to make a right turn. Usually it is not too big of a deal; a few words are exchanged and the people move on in a pissed off manner. If a car does successfully cut through the ridiculous amount of bikes then they cause a “traffic jam” in the bike lane. In this momentary traffic jam, this literally lasts for 10 seconds, everyone who has a horn or a bell on their bike lays on it. Ringing your bike bell at a Mercedes Benz does absolutely nothing, but people do it anyway. If you can get across the intersection without getting hit by a car or bike it feels like a giant weight has been lifted off your shoulders. It is such a relief to make safely across and a true moment of triumph. Most of the time when I cross an intersection I will just start to yell really loud or make random noises; at least that way other bikers will know I’m there and probably try to avoid me. It is a strange sight here to see a foreigner on a bike, let alone a foreigner who is yelling for no apparent reason. When I finally get to my internship I can breathe easier, and I also have the feeling that I accomplished something great, even though thousands of people do it daily.
Every weekend I look forward to the beginning of the week, because my first task on Monday is to go to my internship. This also means that my first task is to make it to my internship alive. I considered trying to film this experience of riding my bike to my
internship during rush hour, but then I decided that I would not enjoyed eating Hangzhou asphalt. It is very hard to hold an umbrella and ride a bike here, let alone a video camera. I hope during my next two months here the most I will come out with is a broken limb.