HANGZHOU, SE China
Who would have thought that this could be endlessly fascinating, an easy (and cheap) way to see a slice of life in China?
I found a shaded bench under a tree along a busy city road in Hangzhou, almost at a main intersection, a shaded path with pergola and more benches just behind me—right now filled with a group of mothers and kids, chatting away as they peel and eat some large Asian pears. (It’s interesting to me that even the locals peel fruit, probably as a way of dealing with the polluted water problem). One boy of about 10-11years ran up and asked me, “How do you like Hangzhou so far?”
“Thank you”, he smiled.
“Where did you learn English? At school?”
“Yes, thank you”, and he ran off again.
The group left and I continued with the traffic-watching.
The road is 2 lanes in both directions, plus a bike lane on either side, divided off by blue and white striped posts linking a low rail. Along this bike lane go the pedal bikes, the mopeds, the velobikes, the motorcycles, anything with 2 or 3 wheels. Down the center roars an assortment of large old trucks, taxis, shiny new red or blue buses, commercial vans and personal cars—old and new, fairly large and very small. Driving tends to be rather random and reckless, especially on the part of the taxis and the trucks, which zoom along and seem to think that staying in the marked lanes is entirely optional.
Most interesting is watching the ebb and flow of the pedestrians and the traffic in the bike lanes. And flow it does, almost unceasingly. Many, many people here in Hangzhou still get around on a bike of some sort and many small deliveries and services are done by bike. A couple of people wave to me, many smile—they probably think I’m crazy trying to take photos of traffic. And I probably am crazy, but what fun!
A small sampling:
A: On PEDAL BIKES, mostly a ‘standard’ version and rather old, many with a basket in front.
–women with big shady hats and a white wrap to protect themselves from the sun
–an old man wearing white gloves
–a young guy giving his girlfriend a ride, she riding ‘side saddle’ on the back
–many young women with a baby car seat strapped onto the back of the bike
–a man with a large wire cage on the back, in which a couple of dogs are barking
B: On VELOPEDES, MOPEDS or SCOOTERS
–women holding parasols
–a man pulling a small trailer piled high with flattened cardboard boxes
–2 pretty young women in ‘office uniform’ of navy skirt and untucked white blouse
–a man with 3 gas cylinders in a large front basket
–a father with a little girl (about 5-6 years) standing on the front platform
C: “TRANSPORT” BIKES and TUK-TUKS
–an old man on a very old bike, pulling a wagon loaded with bits of wood and iron, talking on a cell phone
–a tuk-tuk loaded with a huge pile of containers, all wrapped in plastic, so tall it’s a miracle it doesn’t topple over
–2 bikes, their trailers piled with enormous loads of wood
–a bike pulling a wooden cart, with a large broom made of dried leaves, a small ash-pan and a pointed stick—the equipment for keeping the pavement (sidewalk) clean. Later I passed one woman in bright orange cover-all and big straw hat sweeping the pavement and poking up pieces of paper or discarded plastic bottles.
Often the bike traffic crosses the intersection diagonally, at the same time that motor traffic goes with the L-turn signal. People and bikes go when they want at other times, but somehow they all seem to adjust and miss each other—with the loud and obvious aid of their horns, bells and whistles.