Changchun is a smaller city by Chinese standards, but quite large by the standards of most any other country. Depending on which count you pay attention to, there are somewhere between 3.5 to 7.5 million people living here. And all of those people are trying to get somewhere at pretty much the same time.
If you make the mistake of trying to hail a taxi at 4:30pm on a weekday, expect a long wait. If it happens to be raining, you might need to forget about it. Thankfully Changchun has a very good public transportation system, and the fare is just 1 RMB. Yes, that’s right, you can ride wherever you want for about 16 cents. But even with the plethora of buses, you will find yourself on foot quite often.
The Bearded Giant had been here almost two weeks before he realized something was completely missing from the Changchun landscape. There are no stop signs here. None.
Oh sure, the major intersections have stoplights and turn arrows and all that newfangled technology stuff. But at the minor intersections? The ones where a two lane road meets another two lane road? Nope. You’re on your own. No stop signs. No yield signs. No markers of any kind. In the immortal words of Ted Nugent, “It’s a Free-For-All!”
Somehow it all works. With no crosswalks. No stop signs. No yield signs. Somehow everyone heading in one direction successfully gets there even while everyone else traveling every other direction does the same. Even though cars are parked half in the street and half on the curb. Even though there are rarely sidewalks and people are meandering both directions on foot out in the street. A car making a left turn will barge ahead even in the face of oncoming traffic. It doesn’t matter if there were pedestrians crossing the street. Or a bus coming the other direction. Whoever got there first has right-of-way and everyone else politely lets them through. And pedestrians are smart enough not to linger and tempt fate.
Cars don’t wait for the “right time” to cross or turn. It’s essentially: “Is there a car currently where I would like my car to be? No? Awesome. I am turning now.” with a side order of “Oh I can’t actually finish my turn before that bus gets here because there are pedestrians in my way? That’s fine. The bus will stop. I got a quarter of my car into the lane. It’s mine now.”
If you’re a pedestrian in Changchun, and there is no street light at the intersection? Go whenever you feel like it. Cross wherever you feel like it. Weave between moving cars. Pretend you’re playing Frogger. Any street crossing you survive is a good street crossing.