As an IB teacher, I am encouraged to encourage students to take risks, this quality being part of the IB Learner Profile. My students are lucky. Each taxi ride or attempt to squeeze onto a bus in Beijing offers them an opportunity to apply this in real life, a key characteristic for any youngster getting ready to make their way in the world. For you see, while it is the case that accidents do happen, it’s also the case that in some places they happen more than in others.
Teachers are all too aware that when something goes wrong, education is often the first to be placed under the magnifying glass of society’s scrutiny, so it is here that we will start. Now, I don’t have the courage to drive in our host city, but a good friend of mine who works in marketing does. On his Beijing driving test, one of the multiple-choice answers was “beep your horn and drive on,” in response to a situation where the driver notices a man walking down the street, “whose brain is coming out of his head.”
On a recent family holiday in Huidong, Guangdong province, I had brief hopes that an even more shocking form of education might do the trick. Placed around 10m in the air, on a gargoyle pedestal at the exit of a service station, were the remains of one half of a hideous car wreck. Underneath were memorable characters warning of the dangers of playing Justin Bieber songs while driving – or something to that effect. Unfortunately, these prophetic words were not heeded and our journey, which should have lasted three hours, took eight. The traffic grinded to a standstill as a result of various things going peng (bump) in broad daylight.
In my time in Beijing, I’ve been involved in two collisions of contrasting fortunes. The first was on my way to watch my hometown football team playing in the most important game in their history. My karma or “car”ma (sorry, I couldn’t resist!) was clearly running on empty at the time, as my team duly lost as well.
The second time left me full of mirth, however. I was in a taxi at a traffic light, the driver telling me how bad all of the other drivers in the city are. Suddenly we both offered a semi-violent, simultaneous nod as a vehicle thudded into the back of the cab. As fast as you can say, “Ni neng kaiche ma?” my driver had propelled himself out of his chair, ready to throw himself at our unwitting assailant. I sheepishly removed my seatbelt, thinking I’d better at least pretend to attempt to stop the beating that was bound to ensue.
Upon opening the taxi door however, I saw a scene of total confusion. My driver’s face was frozen: anger, fear and puzzlement, his body not knowing whether to fight, flight or get back in his car and pretend that nothing had happened. An overzealous child, who I can only guess had stolen his father’s uniform and the keys to his vehicle, was sitting behind the wheel of a police car, with an almost identical expression on his face. For all I know, they may still be there now, surrounded by onlookers waiting for one of them to make the first move.
illutration by sunzheng