Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wednesday's Words for August 25, 2010

Of all the headlines I’ve ever read, this one struck me as the most bizarre: “100 KM Traffic Jam In China Enters Its Tenth Day”.

My goodness, can you just imagine?

On our vacation last year—2009—on our way to Connecticut, we hit the end of the New Jersey turnpike at an unfortunate time. A Yankees game had recently finished, and earlier that day, a helicopter and plane had collided, mid-air, over the Hudson River.

I didn’t realize we would be crossing the George Washington Bridge. I wish I had, I may have enjoyed the experience more. But by the time we made the bridge—a distance of no more than five miles—and the traffic began to move, nearly four hours had passed.

I thought that was the worst case of gridlock I would ever hear about.

I never could have imagined a traffic jam lasting ten days. Still can’t wrap my head around it. As I read the article on AOL, I was struck by one way in which the Chinese appear to be just like us, and one way that they are not.

Anytime I am in a traffic jam, I always notice at least a few people who don’t handle frustration well. You’ve seen them, too, I am sure. They go from lane to lane to lane hoping beyond hope that each new lane will magically move them forward. We know it doesn’t, of course, because we pass them again and again and again.

These impatient people jerk their steering wheels, or hit them, they curse, they stick their heads out the window and yell...well, you get the picture.

How many times have we heard, in the US and Canada, about incidents of road rage? It’s so prevalent now, that when we see these idiots in action we cringe, hoping they don’t notice us. In the middle of a traffic jam that has lasted anywhere near one hour, we wouldn’t be surprised if some of these impatient drivers got out of their cars and started a fist fight.

Curiously absent from the account I read was any mention of violence. One driver who had been in the jam for three days and two nights said that while detours are encouraged to ease congestion, he’d rather stay where he was, for to take the detour would increase his costs.

I’m sure if violence were a factor in this situation, the media of the world would have been reporting it. Three days and two nights, and the man sounded...sane. Amazing!

There were, however, a few complaints from the drivers, and here we see a similarity between their culture, and our own.

Apparently, roadside vendors have increased their prices in order to take advantage of the golden opportunity before them—a captive audience, if you will. To quote the article, “One truck driver said he bought instant noodles from one vendor for four times the original price.”

Isn’t it a comfort knowing that greed knows now boundaries?

This is not the first time there has been major gridlock in China. Neither is it surprising, really. Their society is becoming more and more materialistic, and people—a lot of people—have rushed to enjoy their new affluence by purchasing their own cars. The nation’s infrastructure, however, can’t handle the volume.

They are emulating our way of life in one more respect: the Chinese government is working feverishly to build a road system modeled on the Eisenhower Interstate Highway system.

If that’s not ironic, I don’t know what is.

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