Rules of Engagement… Traffic Engagement

Ah, the insanity of Beijing's traffic... When you can't beat them - join them!

Beijing is notorious for its congested traffic. Well, you can probably say that about any other major city in the world but what is astonishing here is “WHY”. What creates the traffic and the rules that it goes by… I’m using the word “rules” here very loosely 😉

From a first sight, you only see the insane number of cars, the unpredictable way they move between lanes and the beeping… OMG, all that beeping and all the time!!!

Then you see the small electric scooters everywhere – on the street, on the sidewalk, going back-and-forth without any particular order – literary everywhere. They have taken over the function of the traditional bikes we all used to associate Asia with.

So, imagine all that madness around you – traffic congestion, unbelievable noise of constant beeping, scooters flying off from all sides and pedestrians in the mix. You watch and you think: “I’m never driving here!”

Let’s fast-forward 2 weeks: We have a scooter! We drive it everywhere – literary everywhere – on the street, on the sidewalk, between cars, pedestrians, going in the opposite direction – we are doing pretty much everything we were watching in disbelief only 2 weeks ago. And not just that, but we catch ourselves thinking: “Did the Chinese start driving better or did we “get” the unwritten traffic rules?!” 

Here’s the scoop, which may make a newcomers’ life easier:

traffic-2_block_1#1 Have a sense of humor…

Understand that the mobile phone is the most important thing! Also, driving while texting is dangerous! Ergo, if you want to text, you need to stop driving. Apparently, here that means: “stop wherever you are – even in the middle of the street or intersection”. That may generate a long line of cars waiting for you to finish texting, but safety first (sarcasm… in case you were wondering 🙂 ). So if you are stuck in that “traffic”, you begin beeping. And so does everyone else. Until the text is sent and the traffic continues… Then, the story repeats.

#traffic-2_block_22 It is a constant game of “chicken”!


The rule is: you start advancing toward where you want to go until the very last second (literary, last second) when you see the other won’t let you. Of course, both beeping the entire time.


gesture-1#3 No one gets angry or gives the “stinky eye” during situations #1 & #2! 


Maybe because everyone is doing the exact same thing according to the unwritten rules of the game. P.S. If you, as a westerner, get angry, do not by any means use this Italian gesture to express your frustration! In China, apparently, that means “let’s dance”.

#4 The fastest way of transportation is THE SCOOTER!

There are literally “0” Z-E-R-O rules about where and how it moves so you got the freedom!

traffic-2_block_4#5 The freedom, that comes with the scooter, brings even more sophisticated “game of chicken”


Since you drive pretty much anywhere possible, you encounter more obstacles along the way. You need to seriously beep your way through! If you do not express your determination to move forward via beeping, the other party WILL NOT move (even if it is a pedestrian who can clearly see you coming full force toward them). So… Beep! Beep intensely!

In fact, during the first few days of riding on the back seat of the scooter, I kept constantly repeating to my husband: “Beep! Beep more!!!”

#6 Parking!

Scooters can be parked absolutely anywhere! Literarily, anywhere! To be honest, seems that cars too but cars require more space…

#7 Everyone drives relatively slow… which makes sense considering all the above 😉

traffic-2_block_6As a conclusion, here’s a social behavior dilemma:

Is the observed above a cultural trend OR a general human behavior exhibited in the lack of traffic rule enforcement?

Based on our experience, it is the second! Appears that the expats take advantage of the newly found traffic freedom even more than the locals. Take us as an example, we were hesitant to break the conventional road rules for… let’s see… exactly a second! 😉

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