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Author Topic: Getting Around Town  (Read 6325 times)

Raoul F. Duke

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Getting Around Town
« on: April 22, 2007, 08:59:47 PM »
First of all, you definitely want to come scope this place out for a while before even considering acquiring any form of motorized transport. China is chaotic even by the standards of East Asia!

My personal choices within town are walking if the distance is short, and taking a taxi for longer hauls.

Buses are cheap but usually jammed to a seriously inhumane overload, and I just don't go there. Also, the bus stop signs and the onboard audio announcements will all be very much in Chinese. Usually, if you don't know exactly where you want to go- including sight recognition- buses won't help you much. The routes you'll use most can be learned but it takes time.

If the crowding isn't bad, getting on a bus and riding around the loop of its route can be a cheap and useful way to explore your city. Make sure you know where to get back off.  

Beijing and Shanghai have subways; Shanghai's is currently much superior but Beijing is building theirs frantically as the Olympics loom ahead. When you can use these, do- they're nice and they're cheap. Crowding in rush hours can be terrible.

Bicycles are a great way to get around, but biking is really serious stuff here. The bike lanes can be jammed and the riders can be aggressive. Again, it will take some time to get used to this. Also, be aware that biking can be a lot less pleasant when it's raining or when the temperatures are extreme. The good news on bikes is that bikes are amazingly cheap here. You can pick up a decent little basic bike for as little as US $30. The cool little electric bikes are good for lazy legs and hot weather, and they start at around US $150.

Bike licenses, in the cities that require them at all, seem to be had simply for a small payment. I think mine was US $1.20, paid at the bike shop.

Motorbikes and scooters can be a smart way to get around town, but you're now starting to hondle with car traffic in addition to bikes. It's madness and it's dangerous. You have to also figure out obtaining gas and maintenance. I think a license here is something you buy; no idea how much. My advice on this one is to wait until you've lived here a little while. One of our members recently bought a nice-looking little Chinese-made motorcycle for about US $725.

For both bikes and motorcycles, the theft rate here is unimaginable. Buy state-of-the-art security devices and lots of them.

Cars. Sounds good. Don't do it. I could write all day and still never successfully impart to you what the drivers and the traffic are like here. You simply have to see it for yourself.

Getting a driver's license here is a little like getting a pilot's license in the West...it's expensive, and lots of classes and testing and time on a closed track are required. Your license from another country will receive absolutely zero recognition here...you'll have to start from scratch. Many people apparently just bribe their way into a driver's license, which should tell you something about what the drivers in China are really like.

Maintenance is highly dodgy. Parking is often non-existant and very expensive if you can find it at all. Although roads are constantly being built, they are hopelessly outpaced by the explosion in the number of vehicles on them- especially in older cities where there's no place to build more. The city roads are madhouses, while the highways are so heavily regimented that they are no fun to drive on. Gas is expensive, and insurance- as you might well imagine- is worse.

The legal road rules- stop lights and lanes and so on- are at best suggestions. The real rules seem to be socio-cultural, and after all my time here I still have no idea what they are. If you're ever in even a small accident involving a Chinese person- and believe me, you will be- you as the foreigner will not stand a chance. Fenderbender cases are often handled on the spot with one driver making an immediate cash payment to the other- with a traffic cop, and the crowd of locals that will instantly assemble, as judge and jury.

Owning a car here is expensive, frustrating, and dangerous...and all done in Chinese. In all my time here and all the hundreds of foreigners I've known here, I've known precisely ONE person silly enough to drive his own car. In town walk, bike, or taxi. Between towns take the train.
« Last Edit: September 14, 2008, 04:27:33 PM by Raoul Duke »
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Raoul F. Duke

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Re: Getting Around Town
« Reply #1 on: April 23, 2007, 05:46:28 AM »
Getting your school's name and address in Chinese right away is excellent advice, especially considering the now-expunged monstrosity it came from.
You quickly get into the habit here of collecting business cards from places you want to return to. Makes life a lot easier, especially until you start picking up the language...
« Last Edit: September 14, 2008, 04:29:27 PM by Raoul Duke »
"Vicodin and dumplings...it's a great combination!" (Anthony Bourdain, in Harbin)

"Here in China we aren't just teaching...
we're building the corrupt, incompetent, baijiu-swilling buttheads of tomorrow!" (Raoul F. Duke)

contemporarydog

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Re: Getting Around Town
« Reply #2 on: April 23, 2007, 07:14:50 AM »
Also - learn the name of the road your school is on, in Chinese.  I learned it with my old place in Wuhan very quickly, and just used to say the road name and then point from there.  Helps as I had a few who still couldn't find it even with the addy in Chinese...
It is too early to say.

Lone Traveller

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Re: Getting Around Town
« Reply #3 on: April 23, 2007, 11:13:38 AM »
I also learnt a couple of landmarks around town (eg the town square, a couple of the major Department stores), so that if I wanted to go to a shop I didn't know the name of, I could get the driver to at least head in the general direction.
Courage is not the absense of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.

contemporarydog

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Re: Getting Around Town
« Reply #4 on: April 23, 2007, 01:23:39 PM »
I also learnt a couple of landmarks around town (eg the town square, a couple of the major Department stores), so that if I wanted to go to a shop I didn't know the name of, I could get the driver to at least head in the general direction.

Very very true.  In Wuhan, I found all the streets so faceless that I had no motivation to learn the names of them, so I just learned the names of buildings instead, or squares.
It is too early to say.

moon over parma

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Re: Getting Around Town
« Reply #5 on: June 04, 2007, 05:43:44 PM »
Not sure if anyone would care, but there's an American blogger who lives in Shanghai and they often discuss the changes/additions to the Shanghai subway system. His name is Micah Sittig.  I believe he started off teaching English at a uni in Hangzhou a few years ago, and has been teaching Math (or Maths, if you prefer bnbnbnbnbn) for the last two years. Once or twice a month he blogs about the changes.
Oh, dry up. <from Raoul>

Lotus Eater

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Re: Getting Around Town
« Reply #6 on: June 05, 2007, 06:06:56 AM »
Riding a bike here for a year is probably the best thing to do before you consider getting a drivers license.

I have a couple of friends with cars.  One moved to Beijing and I'm pretty sure he was trying to set the land-speed record for the Xi'an-Beijing run.  He has now moved to Shanghai, so will be trying for a similar Xi'an-Shanghai record.  His was the ubiquitous Santana, the other mates have 4x4s.

I don't want to drive in the city, but would love to get myself a 4x4 and head out to the bush on weekends and do longer trips on holidays.  So far the only ones I've seen with almost adequate clearance for the roads I want to go on are the Landcruiser Prado and the Cherokee Jeep.  But I need a better paying job - with the same holidays before that happens!

Buses and taxis are fine for city travel.  But being able to stop and explore or take side roads is hard without your own transport when you are travelling.

babala

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Re: Getting Around Town
« Reply #7 on: June 05, 2007, 07:19:38 AM »
Where I am now, both my school and the biggest supermarket are within a 4 minute walk. The best pub I've found so far is about a 15 RMB taxi ride away.

Good advice about learning street names. My first year in Wuxi, the only places I knew in Chinese were my school's name and the Homemart department store (if pronounced wrong, I would end up at the Ramada Hotel  llllllllll) Anytime I wanted to go somewhere downtown, I would tell the taxe driver to go to Homemart and then direct them from there  bibibibibi
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Guangzhou Writer

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Re: Getting Around Town
« Reply #8 on: April 01, 2013, 04:30:56 PM »
If you have a license from a foreign country, getting a Chinese drivers license is fairly easy since only a written test is required. There's lots of info. available in a quick internet search. You'll find blogs and official sites explaining the requirements, which I just looked into. All foreigners with residence permits are eligible to get a Chinese license. China does not recognize international licenses. Here's an overview:

- get your foreign license translated into Chinese by someone authorized
- get five authorized and correctly sized photos
- get a medical check, described online by a blogger as very minimal and cheap
- take your passport with residence permit, original license and above to a testing center
- pass a written test of 100 questions by answering 90 correctly. Various sources online say the pool of questions is from 100 - 1500, many with nonsensical answers that must be memorized
- written test is available in a large variety of languages
- pay a small fee for the license
- if your foreign license says you can drive more than just a passenger car, you'll have to qualify for the Chinese equivalent, like a 22 passenger bus, which will then include an actual driving test, described online by one blogger as a 15 second, Can you drive straight? Then you pass, affair.

I think renting a car for short trips would be really cool, so can't see why I wouldn't want to have a license. Also, I'm an excellent driver.

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xwarrior

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Re: Getting Around Town
« Reply #9 on: July 23, 2013, 05:38:30 AM »
I think the local bus systems in China are great. The biggest drawback (apart from being forced to claw my way over the bodies of grandmothers and children to get on some buses) is figuring out which bus goes where.

When it comes to reading Hanzi I am illiterate so the signs are no use. Asking for information in the street is as pointless as asking anyone back home - anyone who bothers to use a bus knows only the number of one bus, the one that comes down their street. Students know nothing about anything.

My saviour has been GOOGLE MAPS. For those who can be bothered:
1. Google for your city
2. zoom in until some blue squares show up on the roads (about 4 clicks)
3. Click on Get Directions and then the bus symbol
3. click on the square(it is the symbol for a bus stop)of your departure (A)
4. click on the square of your destination (B)
Google will/should throw up the route with appropriate bus numbers as well as alternative routes.
Using this system, it is possible to while away hours planning expeditions to the nether regions of the city.

Now, that is old technology. For those who have a 'smart' phone I have been reading about this app:

  This Bus App From China is So Good It Makes Me Actually Want To Ride The Bus

The Pandabus app works in both Chinese and English (though the maps and bus stop names are inevitably in Chinese) and uses your phone’s GPS to find your location and show all buses in the area. It also shows how often those buses run, but sadly it lacks real-time bus tracking, so you’ll have a better – if not exact idea – of how long to wait for your ride.

There is more info at http://www.techinasia.com/china-bus-app-pandabus/

(there is also a link to an interesting article on Taxi apps)





     
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MK

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Re: Getting Around Town
« Reply #10 on: July 23, 2013, 12:04:14 PM »
I am also a fan of buses in China!  But totally, never ask a stranger, a Chinese friend, or god forbid one of your students about bus routes - they know nothing!

It really does help if you know a few characters though (bus stops use lots of common characters like 'east', 'west', 'village', 'square' etc and you'll get to know the less common ones really quickly if you need them) so travelling buses is also great for your language study.

Like Raoul mentioned in the OP, riding random buses is a good way to get to know your city.  'City' buses will also run to areas waaaay out of the actual city center, and if you have any local attractions (mountains, forest parks, temples etc) there will almost certainly be a regular bus service so you can probably get there for a few RMB instead of an outrageous taxi fare.

You can also have weird China experiences on a local bus - sometimes even on a people-mashed-against-the-windows packed bus nobody, but nobody, will sit next to you, presumably because you're a foreigner.  Other times on an near empty bus people will plonk themselves right down beside you and start practicing their English or even just yabbering at you in heavily accented putonghua.
« Last Edit: July 23, 2013, 12:14:10 PM by MK »

Guangzhou Writer

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Re: Getting Around Town
« Reply #11 on: July 23, 2013, 02:54:12 PM »
I don't know about other cities, but this web site has very useful information about buses in Guangzhou.

http://www.travelchinaguide.com
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xwarrior

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Re: Getting Around Town
« Reply #12 on: July 23, 2013, 10:06:00 PM »
http://www.edushi.com/ is an interesting site if you want to check out a city using a map. It is best if you can read Hanzi. Chrome on automatic translation gives enough clues to get around, but if you want to do something specific it can become a mind-bending experience.

edushi comes with 3-dimensional maps for the major centres and that makes them useful if you are trying to locate a building in the city ... assuming that you have some idea of what it looks like. The feature comes in handy when trying to work out the bus stop you want.

In 'Map View' you can go 'Bus Search' then 'Line Query' to find out the stops on a selected route. 'Satellite View' is handy for tracking down parks and scenic spots.

To try it out you can check out the map for Guangzhou,   http://guangzhou.edushi.com/ , and then change cities in the top left corner.
    
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CWL

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Re: Getting Around Town
« Reply #13 on: July 25, 2013, 10:34:57 PM »
sometimes even on a people-mashed-against-the-windows packed bus nobody, but nobody, will sit next to you, presumably because you're a foreigner. 

Sometimes it is the same way on an elevator.

gonzo

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Re: Getting Around Town
« Reply #14 on: July 26, 2013, 12:39:33 AM »
One form of urban transport common in Chinese cities when I was working there were the little private buses-unmarked-that ran either obscure routes or picked up the extras from the municipal buses. However, on my last visit 18 months ago I noted that the two cities I'd worked in no longer had them, or "black" taxis, the cheap little [usually red] cars usually working the outer suburbs; very handy when you had a load of groceries.
I'm sure both these modes are still in existence in many places........ for now.
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