Monday, 1 February 2010

Loose and Periodic Cross The Road.

our quiet side road

Death had to be hovering nearby. Our taxi driver swerved, banged his horn, slammed on his brakes to avoid a bus pulling out, cut up other cars avoiding a collision by millimetres, smacked the horn again and nearly ran over a cyclist, and I viewed all this when I was almost delirious from three hours sleep in 48 hours, jet-lag, and brain melting humidity. How was I going to be able to live here when surely I was going to get run down just going to the shops?

I'd assured myself I'd prepared well. I'd read about Beijing's crazy traffic, but speeding through the city on the way to train station, it had been busy but orderly - packed cycle lanes fenced off from the roads of nose to tail traffic. Here, there were parked mopeds in the cycle lane, so bicycles and scooter and these ubiquitous moto-carts in spilled out in to the car lane, where buses and taxis jockeyed to occupy the same bit of potholed tarmac at the same time. Oh yes, and even if the pedestrian crossing was working, cars and bikes and those damn moto-carts that snuck up on you without you hearing until you had to leap out of their path at the last minute could still turn.

“How do you cross the road without dying?” I asked my new found friends at dinner. They were still alive after a month, so I figured they had to be doing something right.

“You just have to step out. The traffic will flow around you.” This was not entirely the response I had hoped for. The only image of flow I had was of my body flowing into the road under the wheels of one of the lumbering green buses that my taxi driver had suicidally refused to defer to.

On those first solo trips to the supermarket or park, my concentration on the traffic was so great I didn't even notice the yells of 'hello' that would infuriate me so much in later months. I'd risk whiplash trying to keep all areas under surveillance, yet still a horn parmp or bell ring would send me leaping forwards in panic. A month passed. Nothing hit me. I became more confident, and made sure I never told my parents about how we'd stand in the middle of six or eight lane roads, waiting for the gaps to appear, or the maniacal taxi drivers that would bring me home most nights.

Spring came. I'd learnt to ride on the back of a bike without holding on, or flinching in terror as cars squeezed past. I'd step out and let the traffic flow around me. One day, on the way to the supermarket, I stood on the white line as a bus thundered past on each side, only centimetres of swooshing air between me and several tonnes of metal. My residency was stamped.

* * * * *

This is an exercise I did for my writing class, and I thought, recycle, save the world...or my fingertips from suffering typing related erosion. Anyway, the point of it was to use a combination of loose and periodic sentences, preferably topped off with a soliloquy. I kind of flaked out with the soliloquy, as the nearest I ever get to one is rushing about before I leave the house in the morning, patting various pockets going, 'Phone. Lunch. Argh, do I have my locker key? Do I have my security card? Forgot my scarf. Where's my scarf? Which fool put my scarf in my bedroom when it should clearly be left by the door?...' and so on. I figure I can persecute you all with it, but I might leave it a few weeks before revealing to my fellow students that I have the brain of an eighty year old who goes to the shop in her slippers.

But anyway, back to concept of loose and periodic. Does anyone else think periodic has got a really bad deal here in the naming stakes? Loose sentences are well, loose, and long, and delaying gratification. Loose sentences probably spend their down time being bought champagne cocktails and dancing on tables. Whereas periodic sentences... I imagine them loitering in an under heated area of the office, and trying to impress the newbie with their hard won precise knowledge before slinking off to eat a cheese sandwich alone.

Or, you know, that could just be me.

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  1. Fab post. A real lesson in culture shock.

  2. This is a vivid description of the perils and skill involved in crossing a street in Beijing. Some of it made me shudder... "I stood on the white line as a bus thundered past on each side, only centimetres of swooshing air between me and several tonnes of metal." Yikes!

    Being a math teacher, I never took any writing classes, so I hadn't heard sentences described as "loose" or "periodic," but I think I now understand what that means, based on your last paragraph.

  3. Definitely an actual lesson in culture shock! Terrific post, J! Watch your step! and have a great week!


  4. To get used to that... wow! I love your last paragraph!

  5. Some of the roads here are similar. One learns to survive. :)
    So well written.

  6. A well told story about the traffic conditions and your adaptations.
    I like the combo of loose and the sharper periodic sentences. You're such a good writer!

  7. I lived in the countryside so managed to avoid bad traffic... but going into the nearest city was always a nightmare!

    Great post!

  8. That sounds like the same method you have to use for crossing the road in Rome. In Beijing, we just used a lot of bridges over the roads :D

  9. Pat - I'd never heard of sentences described this way either until I started this course. Now I've written this, I'll probably never forget!

    Rachel - in our city of 8 million I think there was one footbridge, near downtown. On at least one downtown junction, there were what I can only describe as pedestrian traffic controllers, who blew whistles at people very fiercy if anyone tried to cross the road before the light went!

    Thanks for your supportive comments everyone, I really appreciate them all. :)

  10. i remember similar road crossing experiences in Vietnam 10 years ago - and the traffic did indeed part and then flow around you - great post..

  11. Indonesian traffic is quite similar as well. Terrifying to a newcomer!

    I had to laugh at your comment about the 45 year old dog. Yeah, it's a REALLY old dog! hahahaha