The Wenjiang Scooter

Until two days ago, I hitched a ride every day to school. Last week, Bill bought an electric scooter for the school to use – for me to use “when I was comfortable”. I tested it twice on the school grounds, going around the islands and generally having fun. Then it was decreed I could drive.

From my hotel to the school is a distance of roughly seven miles – seven miles of Chinese road. Now, back home there are the occasional bad drivers – they don’t signal, they cut me off. I honk, or swear, or apologize if I’m the one being the idiot, and we all move on. From my week and a half in China, it seems like everyone is a bad driver. Red lights are suggestions, any lane is a turn lane, and right of way is a privilege for worthy pedestrians. Lane switches are done with inches to spare and copious use of horns.

Never the less, I figured that since I’ve been driving for almost fifteen years and have been behind a few different types of craft, this was another opportunity to seize the bull by the horns. No guts, no glory. No pain, no gain. Fortune favors the bold…you get the idea.
Here is what I dodged within the first mile:
Pedestrians
Rollerbladers
Scooter taxis
Food carts
Other scooters
Cars – parked cars, parking cars, turning cars, not really parking cars
Garbage cans

It might not sound bad, but let me add this wrinkle – everything above was going both ways in the one way scooter lane (except for the garbage can). So it wasn’t just “I need to pass this scooter,” but “I need to pass this scooter without hitting the oncoming bike while giving myself enough time to pass the group of students just in front of that parked car ahead.”

And from there it just got more and more ridiculous. It’s a good thing that my route consists of four turns and long stretches in between. Still, when the woman pushed the wheelchair containing an ancient man right into the lane, I could only laugh. This was clearly the inspiration for any video game involving dodging. I mean seriously – my brain was calculating trajectories like I was third person steering. Left, right, center, center left (because far left had a parked bike, center had a pedestrian, and right was occupied by a parked car). I’m being too cool now – I was actually panicking a lot:

“Telephone pole! TELEPHONE POLE/Oncoming motorcycle! Left avoid the walkers! Right? No, Center – in between the taxi and the street sweeper! Telephone pole – WITH TENSION CABLE ATTACHED?!! Vehicle making u-turn – no, parking! – no, turning! GO LEFT!”

Intersections were tough – because any car will just make the turn it wants when it wants to, it’s never particularly safe. I almost got clipped by another scooter who decided to make this sudden, wide right turn – almost in to me. She honked as an afterthought. The bridge isn’t as bad as I thought – there is no scooter lane, so we all must join in with the cars. Since I’m not alone, though, it’s actually pretty smooth. Except of course, when there are vehicles going the wrong way on the bridge. I imagine that will always annoy me.

It’s this, minus the chickens (for now).

Still, when there were “clear” patches – maybe just one oncoming vehicle – I got to enjoy the sights. The strip of big road leading out of the city has a lot of landscaping stores – big marble slabs, trees, huge statues. I can’t actually look at them, but in my peripheral they look interesting. The smells – well, I smell fumes of course. I get a whiff of food stall food, followed later by waste. By the landscaping area, it smells fresher.

Ultimately, I like this little scooter, and my goofy over-sized red helmet. Sure, I didn’t quick-hop out of the way of the battery fast enough and it almost broke my foot when it tipped over. And I forget I’m not pedaling sometimes when I want to steer, and have to brake hard. But even though it’s only been two days, I’m convinced if I could afford one, I’d want one back home. Because it’s electric, it has to be more environmentally friendly. A charge will get me about 30km, though I think it would go farther – plenty for city distances.

Of course, the roads are narrower in the States, and it’s hard enough being a cyclist in Chicago. I’d probably get run off the road. I’ve remember how everyone reacted to the Smart Car – they thought it was this rinky-dink little joke, even though for city living it makes a lot of sense.

OH! I know what this reminds me of – that scene in Wayne’s World 2 with the workers whose only jobs are to stack chickens and watermelons, and to walk back and forth carry a big plate glass window. The internet is being useless about finding the clip…

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