||[Jun. 7th, 2010|04:09 am]
Admittedly, wearing sunglasses and riding your bike in the darkest hour before dawn is not really the smartest thing to do, particularly when weaving along a road that is further obscured by a canopy of trees, branches heavy with leaves, but I could still make out the white lines that marked the edge of the road and that surely counts for something. |
I’ve done worse, tooling down a hill towards White Rock Lake in Dallas before there was even the faintest suggestion of dawn in the eastern sky on the other side of the water. The potholes gave the descent a bit of an edge, but it was when I realized I couldn’t see where the road stopped and the water started that I felt particularly exhilarated.
But yesterday morning, I wasn’t trying to get some kind of cheap thrill, I was just trying to protect my eyes from the thick clouds of mosquitoes I kept encountering. I had a bought pair of clear glasses for such an event, but when I pulled them out of the drawer the lenses had the fractured appearance of a broken windscreen and anyone who has tried to drive home at night with a ruptured deer carcass on the hood of their SUV knows how distracting that can be.
It was almost as distracting as the intermittent thwack of arthropod against sunglass lens as another little life drew to an oh too sudden close. It might even explain why I failed to notice the traffic cone until I rode over it. Before I had had time to react it had been released from its compressed form between front wheel and frame and ejected from the back wheel, primarily from the bump caused by the bike hitting a partially constructed manhole cover.
Fortunately I was holding the handlebars firmly enough that I wasn’t knocked clean off the bike, but was merely sent off course in the direction of a second cone, marking a second manhole cover in a similar state of construction. I avoided that one and easily spotted the third one, even though it wasn’t decorated with accompanying cone. As the sky gradually lightened, I became aware of a line of cones stretching away around the corner as every single manhole cover had received a facelift. One cone per cover and a couple of bricks to catch out the unsuspecting cyclist, that was it, no flashing lights to warn the nocturnal traveler. It probably explained why so many crushed cones and pieces of masonry were littering the road
I’m not clear why there was such a paucity of traffic cones to warn approaching road users, it’s not as if we are living in the China of the 1970s, the time of the Cultural Revolution where teachers were down on the farm, the farmers were in the classroom and, from what I’ve heard from people who lived through it, everyone else in Wuhan was either beating the crap out of each other or keeping their heads down and staying at home.
Back then, there was virtually no contact with the West, traffic cones were no doubt hard to come by and owning one probably meant something. It was the sort of thing that would get you noticed (“I was just over at Mr Hu’s and saw his traffic cone, it’s a lovely thing, red and white with reflecty bits”) or else earn you some time in stir for possessing something that so clearly symbolizes the decadent West.
The traffic police in Wuhan enthusiastically erect flashing signs over major roadways that warn you of the penalties of drunk driving (often featuring a cartoon of a martini glass), the dangers of speeding, and the number of fatalities on a particular stretch of road. They install traffic lights at a junction then turn them off after a month and install a new set 100 yards down the road. They even have nightly shows on TV where they discuss traffic incidences in great detail. In short, they take their traffic very seriously.
It’s clear that nowadays China isn’t short of a few bob, so I fail to understand why they can’t they splash out on a few more traffic cones? Compared to the cost of a couple of police cars (always an imported model) it would surely amount to little more than loose change.
And it’s not as if they are hard to come by, there always seems to be shops next to the police station offering a variety of road safety items. Visibility vests, helmets, tape, signs warning passers by of every imaginable scenario, flashing lights and traffic cones in a range of sizes. I’ve seen more cones in the rollerblade training classes that have become popular for pre-schoolers than were on that road this morning.
I mean, it’s not as if there are hoards of drunk students queuing up to nick them after a night on the town. Chinese students just don’t do that sort of thing, watching movies on the laptop or playing online games is more their idea of a Saturday night well spent. On the rare occasions I have seen a student tanked up, they’ve always played the role of the quiet unsteady drunk, red faced and legless, propped up on either side by a pair of their more sober classmates. On one hand that’s good, but on the other, I can’t help feeling a certain sadness that they will never know the pleasure of parading down the street in the role of Gandalf, traffic cone perched proudly atop their head.