Monday, September 11, 2006

Street Life

This place reminds me a lot of the places we drove by on the train in Thailand, but never got to see firsthand. Ever since I saw those places, I wanted to jump out of the train and really explore them. The city is pretty poor, but not desperately poor. For China, and not being in the big city, this place isn't doing that bad.

The streets here are definitely interesting. There are motorcycles everywhere. Maybe even more so than in Thailand when I was there. I guess it's like that everywhere in Asia, but I had never seen it in China. Beijing was realy only busses, taxis, and bikes. I'd venture to say that there's more motorcylces than non-motor bikes, and definately more than cars. My guess would be that the make-up of the vehicles on the road are 40% motorcycles, 25% bikes, 15% buses, 10% trucks, and maybe 10% cars/taxis.

Like most developing countries, the traffic "laws" or more of traffic "suggestions". There's really no rules, which makes it interesting for crossing the road. I think some of the other teachers (especially the ones with kids) are having a difficult time adjusting to this. I kind of love it. It's just more exciting. I keep telling the other teachers they should abide by the strategy that all other people here take on the roads. If you start crossing the road, don't stop. Just keep walking at an even pace. No one ever expects someone to stop, so if you do, it throws the entire flow of traffic off. Just step right in front of that bus going 40 miles an hour. It'll stop. If you hesitate, or let it go ahead of you, I think you're more likely to cause an accident. I sometimes say that I've observed only one rule on the roads here. If a vehicle or person is at a particular place at a particular time, you cannot be in that exact place at that exact time. Anything goes other than that.

There's really no idea of what should and shouldn't happen on the streets and sidewalks either. There's always construction going on here, so if they need to build something, they do it in the middle of the street or sidewalk. For example, down the street the school is on, they're building a new hotel. When they built the front desk, chairs, signs, and other items that will be placed inside the building, they just build it in the middle of the street. There they were, with cars and motorcycles going by, sawing huge pieces of wood, varnishing others, nailing boards, etc.

Another hotel being built next to the school is in the process of demolishing the old building. They do everything by hand here without machines, so it's just a bunch of people with sledgehammers, banging the hell out of the brick walls a few stories up. The building is about 5 feet from the street, but they just let the bricks go falling down onto the road. There's no such thing as a 'hard hat area', so if you see construction happening you have to walk on the other side of the street. The dust it creates is pretty horrendous too.

Last night I saw people welding without goggles at night in the middle of the sidewalk. Turns out, this is actually a welding shop, and they do all their welding everyday on the sidewalk right in front of their store. It was possibly the brightest thing I've ever seen, but so beautiful.

On the next block, I saw a little girl, not all that little - maybe 6, walk out of a store she was in and into the middle of the busy sidewalk. She took her pants and underwear completely off, and peed. Then she began to redress as I stepped around the stream that was coming my way.

When it rains here, it's hard to go out because there's not much shelter besides inside buildings, and just about everyone walks or rides motorcycles here. Like a lot of sub-tropical places, the rain comes down hard, but for short intervals. The gutters here are placed very interestingly. After collecting the water in the gutter at the bottom of the roof, instead of the water running down a pipe that goes down the side of the house, the gutter is just open on the side of the top of the roof. So that there's a pipe shooting water out 60 feet above your head onto the street. It's like there's a firehose at the end of every rooftop here! Good place for a shower, I guess.

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