Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Idling Hands Do the Devil's Work

     China is and has always been a sort of land of extremes, especially for those of us in the West.  We think of all the exotic scenes: pagodas, gleaming cities, the Great Wall.  All that jazz.  But what a lot of us don't realize, or at least what many of us are quickly learning, is that China is a fully functioning nation, and that it is growing at a rate that would make your eyes explode.  And with that comes the inevitable growing pains, which in this case the growing pain we are talking about is constipation, at least of the road system.  I suppose you would call it congestion if you were more appropriate, but no matter how you want to describe this phenomenon, what it is is a now ten-day old traffic jam.
      Yep, it's been going on for ten days now.  That's a long time.  A long, long time.  Imagine being the first car to have been in that traffic jam, like the fist car at the very beginning ten days ago who had to stop on the highway for some reason, but then got through after like fifteen minutes or something.  Whew!  Lucky on that one.  But as for the other, schmucks, well, we will get to them in a minute.  Let's take a look at some of the pertinent facts, shall we?
       First of all, the traffic jam really is in its tenth day, and it is stretching for about 60 miles.  Imagine a traffic jam going from Cincinnati to Dayton.  Think about it.  At one point, some of the cars in the traffic jam were moving approximately a half mile a day.  A half mile a day.  That's fucking nuts. It stretched across parts of two provinces on one of the busiest highways into Beijing, which used to be called Peking for those of you using old maps with a different translation.  They say that it is being caused by a heavier than normal amount of truck traffic coupled with construction that started a few days before the traffic jam, and which won't be done for another couple of months.
      Well at least the construction is moving along quickly.  So what about all those poor saps who are stuck in this mess?  What are they doing.  Well, they are sleeping and wandering around, and some are playing chess or cards with other stranded motorists.  But they are playing nice at least, as there have been no reports of any sort of road rage violence, although I would suppose that there are not a whole lot of lane changes taking place.  The unfortunates, however, were complaining about price gouging on the costs of food, water, and other necessities.
    That's right, people need to eat, Company, even when they are trapped for days and days in their cars.  And so the friendly local villagers, hip to the ways of capitalism even after decades under communism, are taking advantage by selling things like box lunches, packs of noodles, and bottles of water for highly inflated prices.  For instance, a bottle of water is running roughly ten times what they normally do, and cups of noodles three times their norm.  No word yet on where people are going their business while stuck in this mess, but I wouldn't be surprised if the locals were finding a way to charge them for this too. I am sort of half expecting the People's Army to come marching in there with food and water, because that seems to be a normal response to things like this in China.  After all, the army is a massive tool able to get just about anything done without questions and in record quick fashion.
     There has been some response by authorities in the stricken areas, but they have so far been much more Westernized responses.  But they have supposedly been working, so that's good.  Authorities have begun to let more of the heavy, slow, goods-laden trucks into the capital than normal in an effort to get this flowing, because the trucks, and the fact that there are 40% more of them plying this highway every year, are a big part of the problem here.  They are also asking - I suspect more telling but whatever - trucking companies to temporarily suspend operations until things clear up, and they are advising motorists to use alternate routes.
     Well no shit.  I mean, China is, like we said, rapidly developing, and they didn't have a heavy car culture until not too long ago, so maybe I can understand that they aren't familiar with this concept, and I am certainly not familiar with the intricacies of the Chinese transportation system, but why the fuck would you try to drive down a road that has had a gridlock traffic jam for TEN FUCKING DAYS?  That is just moronic.  If there is no other way that you could ever possibly go that would take less than ten days, then sure.  Maybe that would work.  Or maybe if you had some sort of papers from the government telling you you had to take that way or else, then sure.  Or maybe if an armed bandit was holding a gun to your temple and insisted you take the 405, then sure.  But otherwise?  No.  A savvy driver would be on the surface streets laughing their ass off at the people who were too dumb to know to take anything but the motorway or whatever the Chinese call their freeways.
     So there you have it.  Thousands upon thousands of poor souls sit, trapped with idling motors and rising blood pressure on a hot, tepid slice of asphalt somewhere in the middle of Asia because of road construction and trucks, two absolutely essential elements to a strong modern economy, but nonetheless the bain of everyone's existence who drives a car.  Sort of takes a lot of the mystery out of China, if not the exoticism.  Because a ten-day long traffic jam is still pretty exotic when you start to think about it.  Unless of course you are in it.  Then is just sucks.

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