If you’re from North America, you have a whole new set of rules to learn about crossing the street in China. When in Rome (or China), do as other pedestrians do!
When I first talked about our hair-brained plan to travel the world with our kids, my Chinese friends piped up about crossing the street in China. Everyone kept telling me not to pay attention to signals, but to cross when everyone else does.
Oh that makes so much more sense, now…
In pretty much the rest of the world, pedestrians do not have the right of way. All manner of vehicles take precedent over walking folk from tuk tuks, to scooters to buses – where ever you meet them, stop and let them go first.
That means if you are crossing on a walk signal and an approaching car wants to turn left in front of you, you need to stop. If a bus coming up behind you wants to turn right as you are in the crosswalk, you need to stop (or go quickly depending on how far into the crosswalk you are). If you are getting out of a bus and there is a space between yourself and the curb, you need to let the cyclist pass after you’ve stepped off the bus.
The first time you encounter a massive intersection with every manner of vehicle waiting for the lights to change can be daunting. Usually these intersections have many other pedestrians waiting as well. My advice is to watch what other people do, then go when they go. You will get the hang of it after a few tries!
And the next time you are left scratching your head in North America as you see an Asian pedestrian crossing against the light – just remember – if you are taught that you are the lowest peg on the totem pole and that you go when no vehicles are present, why wouldn’t you go? It’s safest when there are no cars; the light doesn’t matter.
Pedestrian safety in Asia is a great reminder of how other cultures look at problems differently. The person crossing on a red is not crazy, but simply doing what they’ve been taught is safest. Getting a window into the mindset of other cultures is what I love about travelling!