Now we’re starting to become quite intrepid travellers, it’s all getting a little easier. We can confidently hail a taxi, find accommodation , negotiate market prices and choose good local food. But from all our experiences so far, one of the most difficult things is simply crossing the road! This is something that must be encountered daily and a task so simple back at home that it is taken for granted. Here in Asia, it is now a life or death situation!
To put this into perspective, please consider the following examples:
Example a) Crossing the road in the UK
You walk along the perfectly paved, swept, clean and perfectly horizontal pavement. On reaching the kerb to cross the road, you press the button on the lamppost, signalling that you are ready and waiting to cross the road. The traffic travelling towards you at around 40kph, is in neatly formed rows, Life is good.
As the traffic lights change to red, this indicates to the vehicles that they need to stop. And they do exactly that. They break to a gentle stop and wait patiently in a nice queue, waiting until the light changes again back to green.
As the light turns red for the traffic, the green man light appears on the pedestrian side, signalling that it is safe to cross the road. At this point, you may do a cursory left and right check for safety (like your mum and dad always told you…) and then you confidently step into the road, thinking in your head about your shopping list… what to cook for dinner… wondering if you locked the front door….
As you reach the pavement the other side, you think no more about this simple task and carry on happily with the rest of your day.
b) Crossing the road in Asia
You walk along the side of the road, never daring to take your eyes away from your feet on the path, in case you trip over a loose paving slab (if there are slabs present), fall down a man-hole with missing cover (no sign to warn you of potential 12ft drop into sewer), or electrocute yourself on the live wire losely flailing around across the pavement which was blown down from the electricity pylon overhead several weeks ago.
In the distance, across 8 lanes of traffic, you can see the colourful, fun children’s playground that the kids can’t wait to visit.
To make you feel a little reassured, there is a zebra crossing marked on the road. But don’t let this fool you! To the traffic users of the road, this means nothing! At the junction you hope to cross, there are traffic lights and at the signal of a red traffic light, you attempt road crossing number 1. Just as you are about to step from the pavement however, 3 mopeds zoom along, undertaking all the cars, as they are intending on turning left, and therefore technically, do not need to stop for the red light.
On stepping hurriedly back onto the pavement in shock, 7 more scooters angrily sound their horns at you; for they are also not waiting at traffic lights; no! These folk are REALLY in a hurry and have already mounted the pavement in order to overtake all the other vehicles and get quickly on their way. How dare a family with young kids, standing on said pavement get in the way of their urgent journey!
Attempt number 2. It appears the impatient scooter drivers have all now passed. Now the throng of buses, cars, taxis, juggernauts and 1800 other scooters are waiting where they should be: at the insistence of the red light.
So you begin to cross. At this stage, you notice there is actually a green man on the other side of the road, reassuring you that it is indeed safe to proceed. Excellent! It’s pretty noisy walking past what is now 6 lanes of waiting traffic, all revving their engines (a few additional lanes have been created by all the extra cars and motorbikes that have undertaken the other waiting vehicles to get a head-start when the lights finally change). Always concerned that a scooter could still appear out of nowhere, you check constantly to your right that nothing is driving towards you, despite the traffic lights. Unfortunately, what this means is that you haven’t paid attention to the traffic now driving toward you from the left! Because of course, these guys are on a green light and turning right, and now heading straight towards you….
In a split second, you step back. It’s at this point you go to grab one of your two children’s hands and realise that one is still waiting back on the kerb behind you, having stopped a moment earlier to scratch a mosquito bite on their leg. They haven’t realised you have already taken the leap and started to cross! You shout for them to carefully catch up, which thank goodness, they manage to do.
You are now standing in the middle of the road and because of the momentary lapse midway, the lights have now changed to green and so the traffic to your right is lurching forward, all testing their 0-60 for record speed. There are many horns blaring, telling you you are in danger and should get out of the road. You are in the way!
You have a 2-second period of grace, whilst the rest of the traffic to your left avoid collisions with the other drivers who have either failed to stop at their red light due to impatience, or who have jumped the lights in impatience.
After dodging a further 6 motorcycles, 2 taxis and a man pushing his pedallo street hawker food stall, you jump over the suspicious puddle of something wet in the gutter and, hurrah! You have reached the other side!
The kids run onto the park excitedly, adrenaline pumping, whilst the adults spend the next 10 minutes recovering from the ordeal; wondering how to get back across the road later?
Perhaps it might be easier and safer to hail a taxi?!
Here are our 5 survival tips on safer road crossing in Asia:
- Don’t rely on a ‘green man’ to let you know it’s safe to cross. In Asia, little green men mean nothing.
- Also, don’t rely on a red traffic light to let you know that traffic will be stopping. This is a red herring. There will always be several motorbikes and cars too, who will skip the lights, especially those planning on turning left.
- Continue looking both left and right for the entire road crossing – vehicles can come from any direction, at any time. See above.
- Walk with confidence and with your hand held out in a firm ‘stop sign’ to the traffic. 97% of the time, vehicles will slow down, drive around you and occasionally, maybe even stop to let you cross in front of them. The other 3% of the time, you just have to run, whilst screaming in panic at the bus racing toward you at 60kmph!
- There will be a time when you look with horror and realise that the other half of your family did not agree that it was safe to cross at the same time as you, and are still on the other side of the road, waiting to cross over. Learn from this experience and in future, ensure that you all cross together at the same time, in a big family group walking with absolute confidence. You can breathe once you have reached the other side.