Friday, August 12, 2005

Emergency Earthquake Rescue

Funny thing happened on the way to work this morning. I turned in to the entrance of the 40-storey office block Voyage calls home and found myself being tailgated by a impatient driver, revving and beeping his annoyance at the fact that I dared to obstruct his path. There is, of course, nothing in the least unusual about that. Anyone stopping in China for even the shortest of periods cannot to fail to notice the system which exists on the roads here. There's only one rule in this part of the world. If you're bigger than the person/vehicle you are jostling for position with, it's damn well your right of way. Traffic lights, road markings, roundabouts, junctions matter not. If you are a haulage vehicle carrying 30 tonnes of timber and, approaching a red light, you spot a pensioner, attempting to shuffle across a busy road before the green pedestrian light expires, it is positively your duty to issue a loud blast on the horn before accelerating and forcing her to retreat – or run, or just simply die. This is the way it is. It applies right the way down the food chain. Big lorries have more rights than smaller lorries, smaller lorries take preference over large Buick saloons, which in turn can boss humble VW taxis, who - in turn - can take out their frustrations by sending motorcylists scampering for cover etc.etc. It's the jungle. It's the playground bully syndrome. And it's pretty bad news for those who walk.

Anyway, I digress. What was unusual about the vehicle tailgating me this morning was not that it was beeping me for attempting to reach the door of my office block by the only pedestrianised means possible. It was that the car was discernably different to anything I had ever seen before in Shanghai. For one, it was bright yellow and on one side were three words writ in bold - Emergency Earthquake Rescue. I was momentarily shocked, and wondered if there had been some kind of internal collapse in the building overnight, perhaps with some of the graveyard-shift Ayi’s (cleaners) fighting for life under piles of computers and monitors that had fallen through the floors above after becoming overloaded with stock market data and porn. This fear was tempered when, from the back seat, emerged said Emergency Earthquake Rescuer – a middle aged Chinese lady. There were no masks, or oxygen tanks, as one might expect were required of a heroic rescue attempt. Instead, she stepped from the car, slung a handbag over her shoulder as headed into the building for another day at work.

In China, this is common enough, I suppose. Nearly every police car I see seems to have a plain-clothed passenger in the back/front seat. The lights are invariably flashing, yet their crimes of the apprehended hooligans appear to be so minor that their uniformed drivers feel able to drop them off in choice, central locations (cinemas, supermarkets, restaurants) and bid them farewell with a wave. This phenomenon always seems to be more pronounced in bad weather. It's really very curious.

If anyone has spotted any other emergency / official vehicles in incongruous locations, I would love to hear about them.