Saturday, March 11, 2006

Shanghai Chinese and Driving Aggression

In 2004, I had the privilege of visiting Shanghai China for the first time. I have to tell you, I love to travel to new and exciting places. I am enamored by culture, difference and new experience. Fortunately for me, Intel Corporation booked me into the Shanghai Grand Hyatt. I had no idea of what to expect. The taxi driver asked where I was going and I exclaimed, “The Grand Hyatt Jin Mao Tower.” The taxi driver’s head twisted around and he said, “Jin Mao Tower?” I said, “Yes.” I was dressed in jeans for comfort, cultural faux pas or not – okay, maybe I did resemble an Ugly American. The taxi driver says “You must be a big wig, only big wigs stay at the Grand Hyatt.” I said, “No, I am a little wig.” The taxi driver didn’t believe me, so I politely allowed him to savor his belief. Even though the taxi driver was incorrect, in China the observance of hierarchy maintains the social order. Cultural perceptions are what they are; perceptions. It is not the message sent as much as it is the message received that counts.

The Chinese by nature are very respectful and aware of another’s personal belongings. In Shanghai, most people travel via bike, so there are bikes everywhere. These bicycles are parked, unlocked, and parked along the streets. If you steal (borrow) a bike in China you will be fined and humiliated. Not many Chinese are willing to accept this risk. So leave well alone the temptation to ride another’s bike, even if you are running late for the job. Personally, I have chased down one or two bike thieves in my day and I gladly boast a 100% recovery rate, 2 for 2. Of course, boasting is considered unsophisticated by the Chinese, but this lesson in character adjusting may have been enough for the bike thieves to leave well alone in the future. I simply gave the thieves the American version of the Chinese people’s large fines and humiliation.

There is a nice mix of the old and of the new in Shanghai. Some of the architecture is built to accommodate symbolic dragons passing thru without incident (another day). The building usually has a four story hole or ramp-like top built in to the design. This aids the dragon in flying through the hole or rocketing off the ramp instead of causing chaos by plummeting clumsily through the construction causing havoc and loss of work.

Chinese people usually place a lot of effort on friendship with outsiders in order to make them feel as much at home as possible. Many Chinese have adopted Western names in business to aid others in remembering and to streamline communicating with them. Most people other than the Chinese have no real understanding of the importance of the Chinese names (another study).

As an outsider in China, you can expect to receive a great deal of hospitality. One exception is when behind the wheel of a vehicle and on the road, which brings me to the driving aggression of the Chinese in general.

I noticed quite a bit of horn noise on the way to the Jin Mao Tower. On a number of occasions there were 8 cars, trucks, and elderly Chinese pushing vintage carts down a roadway within 5 lanes, never mind the bicycle traffic. Needless to say, my heart skipped a beat here and again as we went bumper to bumper with other vehicles including buses and large freight trucks. During my stay I did not attempt to drive myself and I forewarn any future travelers to do the same. Traveler, be aware, spend money on taxi’s! If you ignore this warning don’t say I didn’t warn you!

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