Saturday, November 4, 2017

What Beijing Traffic Taught Me About Mass Shootings

I have had two trains of thought lately, their tracks criss-crossing my mind.

The first is from one of those jagged and confusing videos that people made with their cell phones as they were running from the Jason Aldean concert in Las Vegas.  A young woman is lying on the asphalt, propped up against a metal fence.  She's been shot in the leg and is bleeding badly.  Some people are tending to her as best they can.  They're crouched down around her, using a shirt to soak up the blood.

Meanwhile, bullets are cutting random and lethal paths all around them.

A police officer wearing a neon vest joins them.  He raises his voice just enough to be heard over the gunfire.  "Do you want me to stay with her?  You can go."

That's what he said.

So calmly.

And so kindly.

It sounded sort of like the way you would offer to help anyone with anything. 

Except he was offering to stay in the line of fire while they ran to safety.

And he was offering to stay with this young woman so that if she died, at least she wouldn't die alone.

There are so many scenes from that night that I've seen in videos or heard about from eyewitnesses.  And somehow that officer in the neon vest has stayed trapped in the net of my subconscious.  I can't let him go.

Kind.  Brave.  Selfless.

This is one train of thought that has careened through my mind all week long.  At some point, it is inevitably joined by another, seemingly unrelated train of thought.  But because these two trains insist on being together, I'm beginning to think they are somehow related.  When one shows up in my mind, it inevitably calls to the other.

The other train of thought is about traffic in Beijing.  When we moved there in 2005 I was amazed by the traffic.  The streets are overcrowded and the cars jockey with each other and bicycles and motorcycles and buses and pedestrians to make headway across town.  Almost no one in Beijing traffic is going to stop and give you the right of way.  Passage is something you fight for.

So the chaos amazed me in Beijing.  But what also amazed me was how few accidents there are.  Given how many vehicles are on the roads, and given how little regard they give to traffic laws, I would have expected to see at least one or two serious accidents on every drive.  But for the most part, people moved through the chaos unscathed.

I began to wonder if it's all as chaotic as it seems.  Or is there perhaps an order to it all, one that's not immediately apparent?

I spent a lot of time in taxi cabs observing the traffic around me.  And I began to see patterns.  I developed a hypothesis that there are some unspoken understandings between Beijing drivers.  They go something like this.

Rule #1: I will continue at roughly this same speed.  If I slow down or speed up, it will be gradual.  My speed will change no more than 10% in 6-8 seconds.

Rule #2: I will make no sudden turns.  I might swerve into your lane but I will do so at a gentle angle.  You will have time to make room for me.  Perhaps you will move into the lane next to you, or you will slow down just a bit to make room for me in front of you.  But everything will happen at peaceful angles.  My angles will be no sharper than 15%.

With just those two understandings - constant speed and gentle angles - Beijing drivers make their way through the web of highways and byways and almost all of them get home safely to their families in the evening. 

For all I know, there are statistics that say that Beijing roads are deadlier than others.  But still I think the two rules above make them safer than they otherwise would be.

Gentle.  Constant.  Peaceful.

Kind.  Brave.  Selfless.

These two trains of thought have swerved together in my mind all week at gentle angles, steady speed.  

I don't know what all of this means.

I do know that those bullets were moving at sharp angles and sudden bursts of speed.

I do know that kind, brave and selfless people are all around us.

I do know that we have the capacity to co-exist peacefully with each other.  Right?  

Couldn't we be constantly kind with each other for a while?  Couldn't we be peacefully selfless?  What about gently brave?

I think we can do all of those things.

And if we can't, I have another idea.

How about if we all just stop shooting each other?



Linda Hayden said...

Beautiful, Melanie. Something to think about and keep myself a little saner in these crazy times.

Melanie Gao said...

So nice to hear from you Linda. Especially since we went through our Beijing indoctrinations together. A lot of my observation happened while I was riding home from work with Mike. Please give him a hug for me.

Amiram Hayardeny said...

Well said and written. This world is really getting insane, which makes kindness even more important. As you said, at the very least, stop shooting...

Melanie Gao said...

Thanks Amiram! How funny that my Beijing traffic buddies are here in the comments section. :). I agree, kindness has never been as important as it is today.

Anonymous said...

I always love reading your thoughts. Always. Keep them coming. I smile. CC

Melanie Gao said...

Well that makes me smile, thank you!

Blue Sky Country said...

I usually hang out at Jocelyn's site but haven't been doing so due to some really rough work schedules. Alternating two jobs between a night shift convenience store clerk and over-the-road (short-range) trucker really puts a drain sometimes, plus any downtime I do get usually involves a lot of alcohol and sleep so I almost get no chill time.

In an ideal world, people would stop shooting each other. However, we live in a world that is hardly ideal. That is why in case I am ever involved in a situation where shooting is involved, I will shoot back harder, more lethally and more ferociously. Same thing goes with knives. I have grown up in the streets for some time and I have long ago realized that when I play hardball A LOT harder than the scumbags that want to start s*** with me, I tend to be left alone rather quickly. I am a law abiding citizen who carries weapons at all times. I have my .45 automatic Colt with me wherever it is legal for me to carry a gun. I have learned from experience that life is nothing but a gigantic food chain. You don't survive by pacifism or spiritualism. You survive by being even more vicious, psychotic and depraved than the SOB trying to hurt you. A short while ago I was involved in an altercation where some coked up street rat actually waited for me outside the store that I worked, brandishing a knife and threatening to carve me up because I refused to sell his homeboy cigarettes since I suspected he was using a stolen credit card. I did not flinch one bit but drew out my own Schrade tactical folding knife and picked up a can of concrete pavement cleaner that was laying by the dumpsters. I told him, very calmly and softly, that I will gut-stab his pathetic a** a hundred times after I blind him by dumping the caustics all over his face and then do a Jeffrey Dahmer with his severed head as a f***-toy until it starts to decompose. The POS looked at me for one long minute, then at my hands holding the knife and the solvent can, and realized that I probably WILL do what I said I would do, and took off running. Now, would I really have done what I threatened I would do if he had advanced on me with his knife? Best be sure I would, and I am sure the a**hole had seen that look in my eyes that clearly expressed that I was not playing any false cards. I think the only thing that prevented me from doing a prison-yard rush on this f***er and laying him dead right there on the pavement was not because I cared about that POS's life but because I REALLY wanted a drink and getting arrested would mean that I would not be able to get s***-faced today, even if the DA realizes that it was a self-defense case and lets me off.

That is sadly, the reality of life. And this is in a supposedly "civilized" United States, as opposed to some war torn hellhole in the Middle East or Eastern Europe where an IED detonating in a crowded shopping bazaar packed with women and children is a daily fact of life and the threat is as real as getting an inch of snow on a random March morning. There is an excellent novel written a few years back called "The Mongoliad", a ballad about a group of warrior-monks desperate to protect their lives and very existence on the plains of what is today Hungary against the approaching tidal wave of Batu Khan's invading force of 100,000 Mongol horsemen. The story draws a stark parallel between this insane realm of one of the darkest epochs of human history, and the world that we live in today. We are all thrust into the Circus Of Swords just by being born. And if we want to make it out alive, we better pick up a shield and a blade and be prepared to go down swinging like madmen.