I’ve always known that there are laws on the books against jaywalking, it’s just that I’ve also always been aware of the fact that I’m living in China. It seems like every day here, I witness people trundling out into the road with no regard whatsoever for the flow of traffic, never bothering to look both ways before entering the path of a 2 ton hunk of metal traveling fast enough to ruin their month. Drivers don’t exactly follow the rules of the road either though, and if it wasn’t for the massive dent that a human body could make in a front fender, cars would probably be speeding through the streets with the same level of apathy towards collisions. With all of the illegal turns, zigzagging bicyclists, meandering elderly, and cars impatiently ignoring red lights, it’s safe to say that intersections are more or less a free-for-all here in China.
I remember reading awhile back about the blue laws in the United States; those meaningless and often silly laws that are no longer enforced, such as It is illegal to ride horse on Sundays in New York, and Taking a bite out of somebody else’s hamburger is punishable by jail time in Ohio. After two years of witnessing the constant and calamitous lack of fucks given at intersections, as well as every portion of the roads and even their sidewalks for that matter, I’d come to regard China’s anti-jaywalking laws with more or less the same level of seriousness as the “no biting someone else’s cheeseburger” law (though one could argue that this is a law we need stricter enforcement of). Apparently Ohio must be cracking down on cheeseburger poachers though, because after having weaved my way through blocked traffic today, I was grabbed and led aside by a street cop.
You pretty much have two options when confronted with trouble in China; play the dumb foreigner card and hope that you can make it too inconvenient for them to proceed any further, or cooperate with them and hope for the best. They’re getting wiser and wiser to the dumb foreigner card by the day, and so I chose to cooperate by apologizing, while making sure to call myself stupid and careless in the process. Have you ever watched a TV show that was so awkward, you found yourself all but yelling at the TV to make the characters stop? When you make no attempt whatsoever to save face in a situation, and instead purposefully try to make yourself look bad, the Chinese cringe, reacting more or less in the same manner.
The officer who’d grabbed me practically recoiled after I’d told him that I was an idiot in Mandarin, and passed me off to one of the other cops that was standing nearby. I was asked if I had a Chinese name, which I naturally do not, and afterwards was asked to show identification, which was the photocopy of my passport that I always keep in my wallet. The man looked over my name, muttering how long it is, and asked me a second time if I had any Chinese names. I told him no again, adding that foreigners don’t have those, while also offering to write my English name for him. He told me that taking down an English name was ‘too troublesome,’ and asked me a third time whether or not I had a Chinese name that I could give him. Somewhat confused at this point, I again offered to help him write my English name, to which he simply shook his head and sighed. Hoping to make the situation even more awkward than it already was, I pulled out a wad of cash and told him that I thought I should pay a fine for my carelessness. He drew back from the money as if it was a viper, half shouting “OK! OK! OK!” as he took several steps away from me. Having clearly succeeded in making him uncomfortable, a third officer motioned me over to the crosswalk and silently proceeded to strap a neon police vest around my chest, manhandling me as he struggled to wrap it across my backpack and clip it on. Once he’d gotten it passably fastened around me, he forcibly turned me towards traffic and posed me in a salute by grabbing and pulling my limbs into position, all the while not speaking a word to me. The original officer photographed me several times, and the bright yellow vest was then removed. He sternly reminded me to be more careful, gave me a hard pat on the back, and literally shoo’ed me off and away.
I have no clue if that was standard procedure or not, but they’d seemed practically happy to send me off, and I certainly can’t complain about getting off with only a warning. The rest of my night will be spent searching every combination I can of “Shenzhen,” “jaywalker,” and “crosswalk of shame,” in an attempt to find whatever local government webpage or newspaper my photo might eventually end up in… I’m going to need proof when any foreigner I ever tell about this doesn’t believe me! Moral of the story though, I guess China ACTUALLY does give a shit about traffic laws.