Sun Tzu & Driving

If Sun Tzu lived in the 21st century instead of 2,500 years ago, he would have written about the art of driving, not the art of war. He would, at least, if he lived in Shanghai. Driving in Shanghai is a little bit like a battlefield. If you aren’t skilled enough, you could die. There are few rules to follow and even fewer rules to break. Turn signals are optional and forget about lanes — those might as well not even be present.

Taxi drivers are the modern day warriors of these battlefields. They weave and duck, they cut people off, they turn when they shouldn’t and honk when they should. I have yet to see an accident in Shanghai (knock on wood), which is probably in large part due to the skill of the taxi drivers. They seem to know what kind of animal the streets are going to be.

Shanghai streets usually have three or four lanes going each way. They are constantly packed with cars and buses. In order to get from point A to point B, you need to break a couple of rules. No one ever runs red lights. But no one gets the right away if you are turning on a green light. So, often times, the driver is cutting people off to turn left. Pedestrians are going to cross, but for the most part, they know how to stay out of the way. No matter how fast paced the driving is or how frustrating the traffic jam is, there is never a moment where you feel unsafe in the hands of the taxi drivers. They are experts. And, if you sit back a little bit, it’s almost like you are on a roller coaster. You go left and right at such speeds that shouldn’t be possible in traffic like this. But somehow, you arrive at your destination, and fast I might add.

There is, indeed, a certain art to any skill. But taxi drivers do it with a kind of nonchalant attitude. If they were in America and saw the anger and defensive driving going on, they wouldn’t understand it. Even the horn in Shanghai isn’t used as a weapon. It’s used as a way of kindly telling someone that you are coming up on their side. It’s more of a way of saying, “Look out, please” than “Move over, jerk.” If driving here has taught me anything, it might be to cool it on the aggression on the road. Next time I get cut off in America, I won’t give the finger and honk my horn. Maybe I’ll just slow down and let them pass.

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