A few weeks ago my family and I were involved in a car crash.
I don’t mean to cause any alarm- we walked away completely unhurt and no more than a little put out. The accident happened, like everything else on Beijing’s roads, with glacial slowness. Indeed, it is in many ways a quintessentially Beijing story, and so I present it as such, without comment.
We were riding in a taxi along the third ring road, and, as so often happens, there were four lanes of traffic where only three were marked on the tarmac. A van was attempting to pull into our lane, which it did by the usual method of edging very gradually across. The van driver clearly expected our cabbie to stop and let him in. Our cabbie, however, refused to give way, and continued driving resolutely, bumper to bumper with the car ahead.
I had noticed this situation developing and watched with some amusement for several minutes as the two vehicles gradually, almost imperceptibly, converged. Somebody must blink, I thought, but no, and eventually the inevitable happened. The taxi’s wing mirror made contact with the side of the van, and gracefully inscribed a thin line into the paintwork.
In England, a collision of this kind would result in a red-faced shouting match, with both men determined to establish their moral superiority. In Beijing, the drama unfolded in eerie quiet, although there was no doubting the seething anger underlying it. Our cabbie and the van driver both immediately took out their cellphones, first to photograph the damage, then to call – who? The police? Insurers? I have no idea how these things work here.
Our cabbie then opened his trunk, set up his warning triangle, and wandered off for a smoke. At this point, we began to wonder what we were supposed to do, and more importantly, whether the meter was still running. My wife tried the door only to discover that we were locked in.
Amusement began to turn to concern. Were we expected to stay and act as witnesses? My kindergarten level Chinese is barely up to ordering a mei shi ka fei, let alone testifying in court. I tapped nervously on the window and bleated “Women xia che ba?”
The driver wordlessly released us, although I had to climb across to the back to get out as my door was wedged up against the van. We paid (I was relieved to see the driver had stopped the meter when he had stopped the car) and wandered off down the highway.
Photo: Michael Coghlan via Flickr