So you want to drive in Hangzhou. First of all, I’m sorry to hear about your death wish. I do hope that you find some reason to keep living, but if you’re really set on getting behind the wheel here, let me give you some tips I’ve learned.
1) You must be 18 or older to drive here. I mention this because there is no drinking age, and you might think the same thing is true for driving after you’ve spent an afternoon in Hangzhou traffic.
2) If you are a woman, you probably wear killer heels all the time. There is no need to drive in these. Simply keep a pair of slippers underneath the driver’s seat and change into them before you start the ignition. Go ahead and let your extra pair of shoes bang around next to the brake pedal.
3) Feel free to park in either direction on either side of the street. It’s allllll good.
4) If you’re pulling out onto a divided road but want to turn left, don’t worry about U-turns. They’re so Year of the Tiger. Just go the wrong way into oncoming traffic until you can switch lanes. It’ll scare the crap out of you, but cars will get out of your way. Or you’ll just sit in the middle of the road until the light changes. No problem.
5) Drivers aren’t allowed to turn around and look behind them, so when you’re approaching a car which needs to decide on a lane (and this will be 90% of the cars you approach), give a polite little honk or two or six to let it know you’re there. Definitely don’t slow down or anything. It’ll probably get out of your way.
6) Don’t feel constrained to use the 1:1 car to lane ratio we follow in the States. The appropriate number of car breadths across any given road is simply how many will fit. And if you see an opening that you’re at least 50% sure you’ll fit through, just go for it.
7) Pedestrians have no rights. If you’re turning and they’re in the crosswalk, well…whatever happens next is their own damn fault.
8) If, at this point, you feel nervous about driving a car here, you could always ride one of these mopeds. Bonuses include an increased number of available parking spaces, the ability to drive on the sidewalks, and (very) optional helmets. And if you wear your jacket backwards and invest in these sweet handlebar muffs (which you should), it’s basically the same thing as being inside a car. You’ll just look cooler.
So now you know why “not actually having a car” is, in fact, the number two reason I walk everywhere here.
When I get back to the States, I promise to stop taking green arrows for granted and cursing “No Turn on Red” signs. Never again.
I also taught at HFLS (97) and fully concur with your fantastic, funny, accurate of HZ traffic! Say “Nimen hao” to old friends in the English Department please! Twyla Ring (at Carefree in FL!)
Hello, Twyla! Great to hear from you! I will certainly pass on your “Nimen hao” to everyone at HFLS. Did you stay in the apartment on Wen'er Road too? What a small world!