After several days of this dangerous dance, what seemed like sheer madness became an orchestrated ballet of rhythm and motion. My breathing relaxed, pulse slowed and instead of fixating on random moving targets, I saw the entire surreal scene unfolding like a lotus blossom before me. It became a beautiful, effortless ebb and flow of man, machine and motion. I had found Zen and the Art of motorcycling in China. In all this chaos I saw how well the Chinese navigate the space around them. Coming within inches of each other, they never flinched or showed anger; they were just going from point A to B. The Chinese I rode with are some of the most courteous, considerate and hospitable people I’ve ever met. I spent time with Yin Jianming and five generations of his family that all lived in the same house. They didn’t speak a lick of English nor I Mandarin, but we communicated just fine. They even invited me to their 30th wedding anniversary celebration.
Upon my return to Shanghai, I was presented with an honorary Shanghai HOG Chapter patch. In an impromptu ceremony, they toasted and beamed “Congratulations, you survived.” I have newfound friends and respect for the people and its culture, not to mention new respect for the durability of a Harley-Davidson. Deemed worthy to ride with this elite group of riders, I wear my patch proudly.
I’ve since ridden hundreds of miles with the Shanghai HOG Chapter here in California. They handled their big Electra Glides with impressive skill through the twisties of Highway 74 or the precarious cliffs in Monterey on Highway 1. It’s our freeways that beguile them. Entering cautiously, they accelerate to a blazing 55 mph and freeze. Then they lock into the slow lane and become paralyzed. It’s completely inconceivable to them that four lanes of traffic could be moving in one direction at this rate of speed without the possibility of oncoming traffic. They fully expect a bus to pop out of the bushes and come barreling at them. As much as I tried to allay their fears, First is Right was too ingrained.
First is Right or Right of Way, what does this mean to you? Perhaps better preparation if you’re intent on travelling China. Perhaps a better understanding of cultural background and patience. The next time you see 25 motorcycles slogging along the slow lane, have restraint! They’re doing the best they can. They have no ill intent. When cagers make stupid moves, we motorcyclists react on instinct and move on. We haven’t the time for road rage. The seeming maniacs behind the bedlam of Chinese commuters also have no time for road rage; they’re simply getting from point A to B… as fast as possible.
The World Health Organization reported that the approximate number of fatalities on China’s roads is 250,000 each year. This study estimates that 45,000 people are injured and 680 killed on China’s roads each day. The study concluded that 92 percent of these accidents were due to bad driving skills.