Article by Tim King
A couple of months ago, AutoNavi, a Chinese mapping company, teamed up with Mobike and the Transport Planning and Research Institute to release a list of Chinese cities with the worst traffic. In this poll, our beloved Xi’an came in ninth, behind some more obvious candidates like Beijing and Shanghai. Like a lot of structural issues in the Middle Kingdom, Xi’an’s traffic is a multi-layered problem. The breakneck pace of development causing construction-related jams, the sheer number of cars on the road now and the local habit of getting into a fender bender and blocking as many lanes of traffic as humanly possible until the cops show up are just a few possible contributors to our ignominious distinction of being a place with horrific congestion.
Seeing as we are powerless to really change this, let’s skip the first four stages of grief (denial that traffic is so bad, anger that you’re stuck in traffic, bargaining by telling yourself “If I can get to work on time today, I swear I will start leaving the house earlier” and being depressed that you’re stuck in traffic) and move straight to acceptance. When you accept that you’re going to be idling in the back of a taxi for the next hour, spending it on your phone starts to seem frivolous, just wasted time spent scrolling through the same WeChat Moments you scrolled through five minutes ago, at the cost of precious battery life. In an effort to help you maximize this downtime, I’ve come up with several ways you can busy yourself while stuck in traffic.
GET TO KNOW THE LOCALS
This is probably a little obvious for a lot of people, but there are few better opportunities to get some authentic language practice than shooting the breeze with a taxi driver. Beginners can try to get the hang of the typical small talk (“Where are you from?”; “How old are you?”; “How much do you make?”; “Why don’t you find a Chinese wife?”), while more advanced speakers can try to share their experiences and ideas with a little more nuance, like when I told a taxi driver that Donald Trump is always trying to go to war with North Korea because he has a small…hand. Of course, that’s all predicated on your taxi driver being willing to speak with you instead of clicking his tongue and sighing like he’s got somewhere to be, besides in the driver’s seat of his BYD.
Not just for celebrities pretending to know who James Corden is, sometimes you’ve got to just sing away your traffic frustrations by getting a little backseat KTV going. It’s most easily accomplished with a car full of friends, but let’s not forget that music is the universal language. Every once in a while you’ll find a driver who’s got a thing for foreign music, and trust me when I say that you haven’t lived until you’ve belted out “Rolling in the Deep” with him while nearby drivers stare at you, jealous of all the fun you’re having.
POST -GRADUATE DEGREE
I’m extremely proud of my many friends who are bettering themselves by pursuing higher education while they’re here in China, partly because it’s always great to see someone improving their life, partly because I’m kind of a loser who has nothing on my agenda but worsening myself, so I’m jealous of them. However, there is a common complaint I hear from these go-getters, and it’s that there are not enough hours in the day for them to really focus on their studies the way they would like to. If focus is the issue, then traffic is the cure. What is a taxi trapped in gridlock but a sensory deprivation chamber on wheels? Whip out your course materials and get to studying—your degree isn’t going to master itself.
They say that sitting down for too long is very harmful to your health, and you might be thinking that you don’t have much of a choice when things are at a standstill. Why not really use the space you have and stretch out? There should be plenty of room for you to get into a Lotus position, or do a Downward Dog, or you can try one of my creations, a move I call the “Liang Pi,” in which you relax all your limbs all at once and lay down across the seat while you stare into the middle distance, waiting for either a green traffic light or the sweet release of death (whichever happens first). Either way, the controlled breathing that goes with properly practicing yoga should help tamp down the anxiety you’re feeling as that meter keeps ticking up.
SHOP FOR MOPEDS ONLINE
If all else fails, the only way out (besides the aforementioned sweet release of death) would be to get your own wheels, and you’ll have plenty of time to mull your options and search the web for a personal vehicle. An electric scooter wouldn’t be a bad idea—it’s relatively inexpensive, easy to maintain and you’ll get to trade the aching boredom of being stuck in traffic for the cheap thrills of running down pedestrians and Mobikers on city sidewalks and playing chicken with jerkass BMW drivers who consider themselves too rich to look both ways when entering traffic.
Tim King is the editor-in-chief of Xianease and his favorite taxi yoga pose is crying in the fetal position. He can be reached at