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Bumper Cars in Wuhu China

I remember the first time I ever got into a bumper car at an amusement park.  I was eight years old and my family had gone to the Spring Fling.  I was so nervous my hands were shaking. 

My older sister, Jennifer, was in another car coaxing me to drive.  She whizzed around with her black, curly hair flying, unafraid of the onslaught of tiny cars and vicious pre-pubescent youth that seemed possessed. 

I was terrified and stayed in the middle of the rink looking around wildly until I was suddenly thrown forward by a boy with spiky blonde hair and a long rat tail curling around his neck like a snake.  He had a demonic grin.  He kept pounding me with his little, green, electric car until mine was pushed up to the side of the track.  I kept trying to move but before I could get going and get away from him I was pummeled again by a jarring hit from his car.  At some point he must have realized that he was not going to actually smash my car into five pieces because after the tenth hit he finally got tired of beating me into the guardrail of the rink and sped off after someone else. 

I put the pedal to the metal and started circling the outside of the track hoping to avoid all of the other cars and the rat tail boy.  Then, in my haste to avoid being hit, I smashed into someone by accident for the first time.  I flew forward with my car’s momentum and landed back in my seat with a “thonk.” 

I have to admit it was exhilarating.  My heart racing, I looked up to see that I had bashed into a pink car with a chubby man and his daughter stuffed inside.  They were weaving slowly around the track because they couldn’t turn the wheel due to the man’s massive girth.  His knees stuck up in the air like sails.  It was a pitiful sight.  I started to feel that same grin I saw on the little boy’s face spreading across my own.  When I reared back to hit them again, I knew that I had mastered bumper cars. 

On the road in Nanging

Driving in China was nothing like this.  Probably because my life was at stake, but unlike the zillions of Chinese people, who I saw ride around rural China like crazed middle schoolers weaving in and out of traffic, bumping cars, and using roadsides as lanes, I never got over the same fear that I felt the first time I sat in that bumper car. 

I was afraid for my life in China every time I got into a car, van, three wheeled truck or any other kind of vehicle.  I would hold on to anything available and wished they had seat belts or that the seat belts would work and not just leave dark stains on my shirts.  After having lived in New York, I thought that I would be able to handle massive traffic, cars going at mach speed and herds of people crossing roads.  However, even New Yorkers follow rules like:  no passing using the opposite side of the road.  The Chinese in rural areas do not follow these rules.  Anything goes and you had better be watching out. 

A Wuhu road

Standing at an intersection in Wuhu, China, where I lived and taught English for six months, was like being at a bicycle race, a motorcycle rally and a NASCAR race occurring all at once on the same poorly made track only no one wore helmets and the bystanders weren’t safe. 

When I got ready to cross an intersection I would become disoriented and scared.  Bikes, tractors, three-wheeled trucks and motorcycles with four helmetless passengers piled on back clogged the roads and didn’t follow any noticeable traffic laws.  I would only cross with a large group of Chinese.  I made sure that I was in the middle of that group as it dashed across the street seemingly unconcerned with the swarm of vehicles.

Wuhu traffic was even scarier than traffic in Beijing or Shanghai because the big cities actually had policemen that monitored the traffic.  I never once saw a policeman or traffic cop in Wuhu and I saw my fair share of wrecks. 

I never dared to drive in China.  When a co-worker and I saw the cheap prices of mopeds at the grocery store in Wuhu, we had a momentary impulse to buy one together and use it to drive back and forth from Wuhu to our school campus, which was 20 minutes away from the downtown. 

We saw so many Chinese people doubling up on vehicles, which were not meant to be doubled, tripled or quadrupled up on, that for a brief moment it seemed like a good idea for us to buy the moped.  Then, the next day, we rode the bus back from town to school and saw two cars smash into each other.  We knew then that we couldn’t drive around rural China. 

A wreck in Nanjing

On a few visits to Nanjing, China, which was a city of ten million an hour and a half away from Wuhu, Margaret and I bumped into a seventy year-old male teacher from England, named Jim, who loved driving his baby blue moped around the city.  He wasn’t scared to drive around China and would put his matching blue helmet on and speed off to his next destination, which he told us was usually a bar. 

After meeting Jim, we reconsidered buying a moped again since they were so cheap and we were sick of riding the city buses and being stared at by Chinese who had never seen “foreigners.”  Then the next day my co-worker and I took a ride to the airport the van we were in collided with a motorcycle that was driving on the left side.  We saw two passengers, who did not have helmets on, pop off of the bike and onto the pavement like toys carelessly thrown down by a child.  We couldn’t believe what had happened.  More than that, we couldn’t believe the ensuing reaction.  The driver of our van got out and picked up the motorcycle.  It appeared that since the van wasn’t going very fast neither one of the riders was badly hurt.  A calm conversation took place and the driver got back in the van and we drove off.  There was no apparent blame, no screaming and cursing and no one got even slightly upset.  No insurance papers were exchanged and no police showed up.  I couldn’t imagine this same thing ever happening in America. 

China is a country with smog filled, flashy big cities, remote, small towns with traditional Chinese charm, picturesque mountains, and lakes and streams that are as beautiful as any in the world.  It’s a place that I highly recommend exploring, however, I wouldn’t recommend driving or riding a bike in rural areas unless you are the extremely adventurous type.  If you do, however, choose to drive in rural China, just like with riding in bumper cars at the fair, wear your safety belt and be prepared for anything. 

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