Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Crossing the street

Whenever you encounter a new city, it is imperative to learn how to cross the street. If you think the same rules apply in Muncie, Indiana as in New York, or, moving into more dangerous territory, in Istanbul, Hanoi, or Shanghai, you’re liable to get smooshed by a passing taxi, motorbike, or bus (respectively). I’ve found that the best strategy when learning the ropes is to wait patiently at the street corner until a local comes up beside you, then keep your eyes glued on his feet—and only his feet—all the way to the other side. In Chinese cities this may not work, since you could get clobbered from behind as well as from the side. Sidewalks are fair game for any manner of transportation on two wheels (and sometimes three). And in Hanoi, it’s better to think of the road as not so much a road as a kind of lava pit that you must jump over by intermittent stones strewn randomly across it. Sometimes you must pause while an especially fierce bunch of lava rumbles past, and you must never, ever turn and dwell upon the wall of fire that could hit you. Actually, as someone who grew up in Muncie, I had to learn at an old age how to cross the street, since in Muncie no one does so. If one lives across the street from the grocery store, and one needed some eggs, one would typically climb into one’s car and drive there. Consequently, when a Muncie driver does see someone crossing the street, the driver often doesn’t know what to do, and either swerves out of the way at the last minute or slows down far too soon in advance. In Shanghai, slowing down in advance is heavily frowned upon, though cars turning right always swerve out of the way at the last minute, so there is some similarity, though they always honk while doing it, while in Muncie honking is a really big deal. In Shanghai, cars turning right always have the right of way, or believe they do, which amounts to the same thing; and they guard that right fiercely, much like certain Americans might guard their right to have guns by shooting people who get in their way.

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