Everyone in China wants to have a car these days. If you’re working your way up into the middle class, a car is a good indication that you’ve arrived. Driver’s education schools are popping up everywhere, although I don’t think these have much of an affect.
People in China are horrible drivers. You’ll constantly see people driving on the wrong side of the road so they can pass slower vehicles, and I’ve even seen people pass police cars this way too. Honking is a necessary part of driving here as well, and people do it constantly. Turn signals not so much, however.
It’s also possible for a foreigner to get a driver’s license in China, so long as you have the supporting documents and take the tests. You’ll need all your IDs, as well as a copy of your home country’s license. You’ll have to take a multiple choice test of about 100 questions, and you can only get about 4 to 5 wrong. Still, it’s a pretty cool thing to show your friends back home.
Buses are one of the main forms of transportation. They’re large, packed, and the ride is anything but smooth. I used buses for the first 3 years I lived in China, and nothing else. They’re cheap, about 2 Yuan for short rides, and up to 5 to 10 Yuan for rides across the city. All of the buses have TVs that play crap. For some reason they really love old America’s Funniest Home Videos clips.
There are also buses that head out of the cities, and these are usually sleeper-buses. These things have ‘beds’ that you can lay down on, but the ride is often pretty bumpy. I took one of these to Guilin one year, and let me tell you, I didn’t get any sleep on the thing.
Lots of people use trains to get to other cities. There are several high speed trains now, and more are being built all the time. I took trains up to Guangzhou from Shenzhen several times to get government documents and visit the US embassy over my 5 years, and the trip took about an hour. That’s not counting the time spent waiting in line for tickets, waiting to get on the train, and waiting to get off. That bumps it up by another hour or so. You’ll always need your passport to get a train ticket, which aren’t that expensive.
If you’re travelling long distance, you’ll usually be able to get in a sleeper car. I took a trip to Beijing one year that saw most of the distance covered at night. It was a smooth ride and cost less than a thousand Yuan.
The Metro, or subway, is a great thing in newer cities, and lines are being added and expanded all the time. This is probably the best way to get around, as the trains don’t shake like the buses, and they don’t have to worry about traffic. I was so happy when they opened a line that would let me get to work, as I didn’t have to take the bus anymore. It’s real easy to get card that lets you put money onto it, so you just swipe it, go through the turn-styles, and you’re done. I’ll usually spend about 100 to 150 Yuan a month on my metro card.
Bikes are a great way to get around your area of the city. I live in Shenzhen, so using a bike is only practical about half the year. If I were to ride my bike to work in the summer months, I’d be covered in sweat.
Most people ride really crappy bikes around. I mean, these thins squeak to high heaven, are covered in rust, and generally look like they’ll fall apart at any minute. Most people also ride bikes very slowly, perhaps because of the summer heat, and for some reason kick-stands are nearly always left down.
I’m really surprised more people don’t get killed on bikes. They swerve about and people driving cars are horrible drivers. It probably happens quite frequently, I just don’t hear about it.
I’ve had several mishaps while riding my bike in Shenzhen. One time I was coming back from lunch somewhere and a kid on the sidewalk was playing. He had a stick and was playing swords when he suddenly jumped off the sidewalk right in front of me. Slam! I knocked him right to the ground and I went down too. I got up and got the hell out of there fast. Don’t’ worry; he was fine, and probably more shocked to see who hit him than anything else.
One day I was riding home for lunch and I cut through an intersection ‘illegally.’ A motorbike with a father and his two young daughters was doing the same from a different direction and we hit each other. Everyone went flying, were all alright, and I again got the hell out of there.