Sunday, March 12, 2006

Chinese Road Rage Meets American Karate Kid Head-on

Alright, I will admit, I have no martial art skills, but I did see the Karate Kid movie in the 1980’s, fortunately for me, I knew the Praying Mantis movement would come in handy one day and its day finally arrived. In case you need a jolt, of memory jog, the Praying Mantis is similar to the Karate kid standing with one leg on a pole, the other leg bent and up. Hands are postured to resemble the Praying Mantis.

After working a full day in Pudong, I was feeling very hungry. I was a pedestrian in Shanghai and I had just walked for miles all over the Bund. I had a dinner engagement with two of my peers residing at the Westin hotel so I was making my way across town to join them for dinner. Being a pedestrian can be a dangerous business with at least 200 traffic related fatalities per day, amounting to at least seventy-three thousand deaths per year in Shanghai. With this in mind, a walker must be prepared for anything. Trust me when I say, anything!

I had the Westin in my sight. The road seemed as clear as it could be so I took a chance at crossing. Just as I crossed the mid-point, hundreds of bicycles came around the corner and blocked my crossing of the road. As I looked back to return to the side I had just committed to leave, traffic had begun and it was not possible. I was stranded in the middle of the street. There was no division between the South bound and North bound, traffic. To make matters worse a city bus had come to a stand still right in front of me. I was thinking, “This is not good.” The bus driver openly displaying his disappointment, obviously not happy with the situation and neither was I. As I continued to look for an out, the bus driver bumped me with the bus. Yes, the bus driver hit me. Although the hit was not damaging (other than my pride), I let the first bump go with a glance. The second bump knocked me a little harder, as if to push me down the street. This occurrence demanded some attention. This time I slapped both hands firmly onto the front metal panel of the bus and looked the driver directly in the eyes. Slowly backing up without losing eye contact, I raised into the Praying Mantis stance. The bus driver looked on in disbelief. Eventually the smile made its way clear and the bus driver threw his hands into the air (smiling which isn’t always an easy non-verbal to receive), and waved me on. Finally there was an opening in bike traffic and I was able to cross, the bus went on its way and we all lived to tell about it. In Asia, making fun of your self is usually the best answer to cultural interpretation and ultimately understanding of the humor.

I didn’t expect the Chinese bus driver to have ever seen the Karate Kid movie, but I realized he would recognize the Praying Mantis stance. International and/or cultural humor is not always appropriate and is often times misunderstood due to language and cultural differences. Be careful sharing jokes or expecting other cultures to understand your humor. Many words and non-verbal communication do not translate well, for example, the American “Brown Bag” Meetings. For years, I would host a number of global brown bag lunch meetings. One day a Chinese counterpart asked, “What is a Brown Bag?” The light went on!


Mr Jorgen said...

Great story and illustration, and a very good Social Anthropology 101 for all of us. :)

But you are telling us about 200 road accident fatalities every day in Shanghai? That's horrible! What's the population of Shanghai? (In Norway, with a population of 4.5 million, we have between 200 and 250 road fatalities per year. Nationally.)

Mike Kline said...


Shanghai has about 20 million people living on top of each other... It is sad and crazy to assume a risk of okay fatalities in the numbers Shanghai lives with!