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Chatting with my Chinese Friend (5): Rush Hour in Beijing

Editor: Li Kun 丨CCTV.com

10-07-2015 09:02 BJT

By H. Karoui

You see the headline of this commentary and you might think this is about  an upcoming sequel to Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker’s famous "Rush Hour" movies.

But you're dead wrong, although I loved the movie for making me laugh so hard. However, when you get stuck in a traffic jam, as I was last Friday evening here in Beijing, then your head goes spinning and whirling, especially when you must adjust yourself the time difference and sleeplessness.

During these tormenting moments, you do not wish to ponder Jackie Chan's grimaces and Chris Tucker's big mouth and laugh. Instead, you want to jump out of the cab and rush away from rush-hour. You hope - to find the nearest subway station, assuming this would be a fast and efficient solution to your problems.

Then, you go buy a subway ticket, get down to the platform, and when the train arrives you see that people are so tightly squeezed inside that you wonder how the devil are you going to arrive to your destination in one piece. And if you still think Rush Hour is funny at that moment, perhaps you should question your sanity.

Crossing over 5000 kilometers in an airplane, barely sleeping for the prior twenty-four hours, I arrived at the Beijing International Airport, caught a cab, and gave the driver an address of my rented apartment in Chaoyang District.

During the ride, I was half-asleep. When I woke up, I arrived at Chunxiulu. I saw Fiona and Maggie at the office of the serviced apartment, receiving me with a welcoming smile. Still drowsy, I signed documents, paid the rent, and  headed towards  my residence.

It was almost noon. The September's sun was high and blazing above Beijing’s blue sky. I was wearing a wool jacket, and Maggie said, "You won't need this (pointing to the jacket). We still have fine weather these days."

I said, "Yes I see. But after being surprised once by the whimsical Chinese weather, I prefer to get ready for it."

Actually, I'm not sure I felt the sun. In the country where I currently live, Qatar experiences 40 degrees Celsius or higher in the shade as a routine.
Later on in the afternoon, I was in a taxi with Chun Ling, headed towards the other end of the city. Some friends were waiting for us. It was a surprise-invitation, which I was crazy to accept in my somnambulate state.

Normally if I did not feel well, I would say "tomorrow, or another day." But I thought I was in a normal state. Actually, I was not and did not know it yet, since I did not sleep at all.

It was a monstrous rush hour in Beijing that awakened me out of my somnambulistic state. Wang Juan, the friend who invited us, had insisted twice that we take the subway. But the station, was about a 20 minutes walk from our place.

 I said, "we’d better call a taxi." I realized soon afterwards that I made a poor decision. I know rush hour in Dubai, Doha, Paris, London, and other cities ... I had no idea what it could be in Beijing. Generally, when I am in China, I like to walk.

The streets are incomparably animated here at any time of day. For the sociologist with a passion for observing public places and people's culture, traditions, and behavior, in such a different civilization, as I pretend to be, Beijing can be a real blessing.

Chun Ling told me once about an American friend who said,"you know why I like to live in China? It is because wherever you go here, you meet people. People are everywhere. You barely see this in my country.”

Maybe he was talking about small cities and maybe he was right. For apart from New York City, and big places, such as Washington D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, there are thousands of cities in the USA where sidewalks are often empty.

This is also the case in Europe, which could explain why thousands of Arab refugees are fleeing Turkey and other countries (mostly Syrians, Iraqi, Palestinians…) over to Europe.

They think there is enough space for everybody, them included. The result is an unprecedented human crisis, a kind of gigantesque rush-hour days.

If you go out for a walk in a city of the Arab-Persian Gulf, you would not fail to notice, particularly on Fridays and Saturdays (sometimes other days), that sidewalks are empty from  Gulf citizens.

Apart from a few Indian, Pakistani, Filipino, Nepali, Sri-Lankan, and other Asian laborers, nobody is standing out on the streets, especially during the daytime. That’s because the average temperature in these cities is 40 degrees or higher.

If you don't have a car, you cannot survive, unless you are willing to seek a pre-taste of hell. However, rush-hour in these cities is very much like what you see in big Western cities. Sometimes, it is unbelievable.

In France at the beginning of the weekend, if you are going  outside of Paris and its region, you may stay bogged down with your car, for two or three hours just to travel over one or two kilometers.

In the Gulf countries, as Heat remains the absolute ruler, rush-hour may be at every and any moment of the day. For provided you get a monthly salary, you can have a car and thus take part to the permanent rush-hour party.

It is quite amazing that architects have imagined everything in our cities  except efficient ways to avoid or overcome the mess of rush-hours.

We can enjoy state-of-the-art technology, computerized modern cars, intelligent GPS, and we still feel so powerless, waiting behind our steering-wheels for hours and hours on end.

To make it short, I woke up in a taxi, I don’t know what street it was in Beijing. I don't know how long we stayed bogged down. And finally, I don’t even know how I returned home.

Nevertheless, I want to say thank you to Chun Ling and offer my sincere apologies to Wang Juan for having to wait for me amidst the rush hour traffic.


( The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )



Panview offers a new window of understanding the world as well as China through the views, opinions, and analysis of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

Panview offers an alternative angle on China and the rest of the world through the analyses and opinions of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.


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