Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Passenger Chronicles


It's really hard to be a passenger here. I have had two good drivers where I didn't feel the need to wear a blindfold or take Dramamine...one taxi driver and one bus driver.

I have taken a lot of buses and taxis in the year I have lived in Hong Kong. Most drivers are more concerned with the conditions of the road than with the passengers slithering off their seats or plastered to the windows. Oh. Wait. Apparently, I'm the only one that does that.

I cannot be critical about driving here because I will never even attempt it...England. Me. Stone wall. Flat tire. There is no such thing as the open road or wide open spaces. Ah, for the open roads of Texas, Alaska, Canada, or the western states. I have driven in New York City, Boston, Dallas, Chicago, Seattle, and Paris when it's bumper-to-bumper traffic, so I understand you just need to do what you need to do.

To give you a picture: driving is left-sided on the pieces of rock that sprout out of the ocean. Street and real estate space are at a prime, so as much as possible is shoehorned onto anything that is potentially buildable or driveable. As engineering advances, previously unbuildable areas are claimed for expansion. In the meantime, skyscrapers, 7-8 million people, buses, trams, taxis, lorries/trucks, motorcycles, cars, scooters, and an occasional bicycle all vie to share space.

Floods of people crest the sidewalk rivers that are only 0.25 people wide. As people spill into the streets, taxis will whiz by, honking at the pedestrians. On a side note, I have observed that taxis don't stop for locals. However, they do stop for visitors. Locals hear a horn and smoothly return to walking on the sidewalk. Visitors have a dazed, shell-shocked look about them so the drivers deign to stop.

Double-decker bus drivers are pretty amazing, driving in these narrow, cramped streets or on winding, hairpin mountain roads. I hated driving my dad's truck with the fishing boat in light traffic on open roads so it boggles my mind that they are able to handle these massive vehicles in such tight spaces drowning in pedestrian and vehicle traffic. Then, if you sit in the "suicide seats" (the front window seats above the driver), you get a good view of everything going on. Including when you stop 2 inches from the bus in front of you. Oh yeah. That's fun to do to visitors. Those seats are usually available, too.

Because of the screech-and-peel nature of traffic and careening around hairpin corners, I am usually slithering off the seat onto the floor, plastered to a window, flattening fellow passengers into a people pancake stack (maple syrup anyone?), or wrenching my back with a four-point death grip on the fixed parts of the vehicle. Even when I am seatbelted into a taxi, because the seats are vinyl, I have insight into what cereal packaging means when it says "contents may have settled" as I am jostled into a stranglehold by the seatbelt in a nearly horizontal heap on the floor.

I am convinced people who live here go somewhere to have Velcro installed to secure themselves to their seat and a Weeble mechanism in their legs to keep themselves upright and from rocking into fellow passengers. Case in point, I came home on a bus with the proceeds of shopping. As I stood up to prepare to be spewed into the street as the bus lurched to a stop, I readied myself in my four-point death grip by setting my basket on the bus floor. In the process of suspending myself like a spider in my bus web, my watch popped off. I just figured I would scoop the watch up as I was stumbling out of the bus. However, there was a lady in front of me with three shopping bags, a purse and her office bag. She managed to steady herself with her burden and reach down to pick up my watch while the bus heaved to a stop. Oh yeah. She was that good. And I need to figure out where that Velcro/Weeble store is.

5 comments:

  1. ...youth + no arthritis= agility...

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  2. LOL! I dunno...the lady who picked up my watch looked like we might be close in age. Even when I was "youth + no arthritis" the equation never equalled agility for me. I think there is a disconnect between my feet and my mind. But, it makes for much entertainment for anyone observing me (and not affected by my clumsiness).

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  3. Jenn,I am sorry about the watch, but I have to laugh, you tell these stories so good I can't help it. You are a brave girl, I am not so sure I could do it. Hang in there! :)

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  4. An entertaining and fascinating insight into life over there.

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  5. Thanks Juli & Sue - I was hoping it would entertain and make people laugh.

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