Driving to work in Shenzhen

One topic virtually every expat in China is outspoken about is the way people in China drive. If you’re a pedestrian, you are a moving target, and if you cross the street and live to tell about it you consider yourself blessed. Conventional traffic rules and courtesies we take for granted elsewhere are held in contempt by virtually all Chinese drivers. I think I can say with confidence that every single expat in China, no exceptions, has something to say about this topic.

Which brings me to this post by tonight’s guest blogger Shenzhen Person Sam (original post can be found here). Enjoy.

I’ve been driving to work a little lately. Yes, I’ve
achieved a minor pinnacle of Chinese life; a Chinese
driver’s license. It’s rather difficult for Chinese
to earn a driver’s license–long lessons, huge tests,
long waiting periods–so some people just “buy” their
license (from what I can guess here, it might be a BIG
proportion of drivers, considering their
obvious…er…skills). If you’re not Chinese, there
are some special skills and practices you’ll need to
utilize for driving here:

1. Learn to suppress your outrage reflex
you’d only burst a vessel.

2. Recall all your action video gaming skills
— anything can happen from any direction, any time.

3. Don’t forget it’s not really a video game
— the explosions and severed limbs wouldn’t

4. Beware of the left lane — it’s primarily
for pedestrians jumping over the barriers.

5. Avoid the center lane — drivers can swerve
into it from either direction.

6. The right lane is no good — that’s where
taxis hang out and bicycles ride the wrong way.

7. Use the appopriate music — nothing too
rhythmic or steady; it will lull you into a sense of
predictability. Jittery and syncopated is better.

8. Learn some good Chinese curses — “Wan ba
dan” is allright for normal use, “Ni ma le ge tui de”
is a little more eloquent, but it’s a NorthEastern
idiom, and ShenzhenRen may not understand. Yesterday,
when a bus tried to kill me, I forgot all my Chinese
and could only manage “Chiu mah dik!!” It
wasn’t too effective, of course; the driver only
thought I was speaking bad Cantonese. Did I mention
to suppress your outrage reflex?

The Discussion: 12 Comments

Hehe, pretty funny. I can think of quite a few more that should be added to the list:

9. Use your horn … continuously. You must honk every 5 seconds to let other cars know that you exist.

10. If you are making an sudden unsafe manuever and hear an angry loud honk, keep going because that means the other driver has seen you.

11. Always take the shortest path possible, even if it means driving the wrong way on a one way street.

January 19, 2005 @ 11:37 pm | Comment

Hah. and…
12. If you see you’ve missed your turn, don’t worry; you can always drive in reverse down the road, and cross three lanes of traffic to make the intended turn.

13. Don’t flinch! Your opponent was only trying to make you react, so he can dive into the wee opening when you tap your brakes or twitch the wheel.

January 19, 2005 @ 11:59 pm | Comment

So very good. Thanks guys. My observations and sentiments exactly.

Fortunately for many Chinese much of the traffic is at much less speed than you find on the city streets in the US or Europe, otherwise the streets would run red. Actually, this is a dramatic show for why rules are needed and why they should be ENFORCED, which the Chinese are notoriously lacks about. A good case can be made in China for plaintiff’s lawyers who might, by suing change the driving habits.

14. Parking vehicles on sidewalks completely or partially blocking them to pedestrian traffic.

January 20, 2005 @ 12:39 am | Comment

What is chiu mah dik?

January 20, 2005 @ 3:06 am | Comment


Did you mean Tar ma dik? LOL
Wan ba dan is a very polite way to cuss. Please learn the REAL and hardcore Cantonese cuss words from linguist bellevue.

January 20, 2005 @ 6:37 am | Comment

15. When coming across a gridlocked intersection, ease the congestion by driving down the sidewalk instead. Make sure to spend a good twenty seconds speeding up in the bike lane, then merge seamlessly onto the sidewalk, horn blaring. Pedestrians will make way out of sheer courtesy for your selfless act to help reduce street traffic.

January 20, 2005 @ 8:11 am | Comment

JR, just say it out loud. If you’re not a native English speaker, it may not make sense.

January 20, 2005 @ 9:15 am | Comment

“mah” is my Texas accent coming through. A proper English pronunciation would sound like “mai”.

January 20, 2005 @ 9:18 am | Comment

And don’t forget to use pedestrian underpasses to beat the traffic where available- but beware the buses following at high speed. That happened to me in Changsha, and everytime I went back through that area I reached up and touched the top of the underpass and wondered how the hell anybody managed to squeeze a bus through there.

January 20, 2005 @ 7:25 pm | Comment

I’m going mad! Mad! Mad – I tell you!

I swear, highway drivers are completely maddening – at least they are from Vancouver. To give context, Vancouver highway 1 has three driving lanes. The inner lane is reserved for carpooling only (thanks enviro-weenies). Now, I must digress here for…

July 27, 2005 @ 9:10 am | Comment

Just in case anyone ever accuses you of exageration regarding driving here….I put up some pics taken during our daily commute from Shenzhen to Chang’An (~1 hr each way)


February 3, 2006 @ 6:15 am | Comment

Just in case anyone ever accuses you of exageration regarding driving here….I put up some pics taken during our daily commute from Shenzhen to Chang’An (~1 hr each way)

February 3, 2006 @ 7:39 am | Comment

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