The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Bad #2 and #3

2. No spatial awareness

I’m going to start making a list soon of the things I’m going to miss, and not miss, about China. Very high on the second list would be the seemingly total lack of awareness of other people or things. From the person swimming across my swim lane directly in front of me without looking to see if someone’s coming, to the LEGIONS of people darting out into the street without checking for oncoming traffic, to the guys smoking in the weight room and the pool. . .the list goes on and on. But how about a more interesting, and more recent, example? I was with my friend Charles (Wei Zhe) last week, and on our way to meet a friend of his for coffee we passed by a Jaguar dealership with a new model sitting proudly outside. It’s a Jaguar XL, which Charles explained stood for “extra-large” because people in China like big cars. He’s right, too. When I got to Tianjin six-ish years ago, the vast majority of the cars on the road were small sedans or those cartoonishly dangerous three-wheeled mini-carts. Now the roads are packed with BMW’s, Mercedes Benzes, and much larger models of the older, smaller sedans. Ominously, I’ve even seen the occasional Hummer, which has to be among the top five stupidest, most wasteful vehicles ever made. Especially here, where the average parking space is the size of a Mike and Ike box.  Still, people with money here are all angling for bigger, flashier cars. Never mind that the roads during rush hour are approaching apocalypse-level congestion and insanity.

3. Laser beams in traffic

As I believe I’ve explained before, I’ve compiled quite a file of nutters out here. (Cultural note: I will be going back to the U.S. in four months or so to pursue doctoral work, and I’m sure while there I’ll compile an equally thick file of U.S.-based nutters, so stay tuned for the culturally-balanced rejoinder to what must seem like an unfair emphasis on Chinese nutters.) We’ve had chain bullwhip guy, Chinese white supremacist guy, and scads of others. I would like to introduce another entry into this august company: military-grade laser beam guy and gal.

The other day I was biking to one of my tutoring jobs. The apartment complex where I teach is on the other side of an overpass. As I was nearing the intersection, I noticed two VERY powerful green beams playing across the overpass, the trees on the roadside, and passing cars. Whoever was using the lasers had a partner on the other side of the bridge, because I saw two equally powerful beams playing across objects and landmarks on my side. Typical laser pointers are only noticeable by the red dot that appears on whatever they’re aimed at; you’re really not supposed to see the entire beam. If you can, you’re looking at something MUCH more powerful than a simple laser pointer, powerful enough that if it was to hit you in the eye it could conceivably cause some damage. It probably wouldn’t be cinematic damage, of course. It’s unlikely your eyeball be reduced to the consistency of cottage cheese or bubble out of its socket like the eyes of the Nazis at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it still wouldn’t do you much good. So for those who for some reason aren’t tracking with me, there were two people pointing high-powered laser-beams into and around rush-hour traffic in the fourth-biggest city in China. The question, as always, is why? And, as always, the answer isn’t an answer at all. In this case, the laser-beam culprits were in fact SELLING lasers.

Yep, on each side of the bridge, standing on the street corner, was a person (man on one side, woman on the other) wearing a small sandwich board around his/her neck, a small box of military-grade laser beams on the pavement. Nice, neat sign on the box advertising how great the lasers were. If you were to ask me what I thought might be more dangerous than shining military-grade lasers into oncoming traffic, I’d probably say, “Selling military-grade lasers en masse so that EVERYONE can shine lasers into oncoming traffic.” Then you and I would laugh about how foolish that would be, turn slowly to the street corner, and our laughter would peter out in textbook sitcom fashion as we realized that the en-masse laser-selling scenario was the one actually playing out.

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