Chinese Driving

The summer of 1992 changed me forever.

I spent it teaching English in Hefei. Ask me about that summer and I’ll tell you about the heat. I’ll tell you about the sweat that would trickle down my back at 7:45 a.m. as I walked to class. I’ll tell you about gathering around a freshly sliced watermelon with my students and learning about trying to cool down eating juicy fruit. I’ll tell you about the culture lectures I helped put on and how I was in a Christmas play in July. I’ll tell you when we showed the movie Hoosiers to our students and I knew the deep ache of loving your home country from afar. I’ll tell you about sobbing so hard at the end of the summer my teammates believed I had fallen in love under their noses.

What I will fail to tell you is how Chinese driving began to seep into me. Nowadays laws are to be followed. Then, let’s just say the roads were the wild west. Lanes mere suggestions. Stop lights more like check-to-see-no-cops-lights. You passed on the left. You passed on the right. You drove through cars coming the opposite direction. You thought you might die and wondered why you didn’t see more accidents.

Guess when these experiences will come in handy? Years, and years later when your oldest niece is 15 and learning to drive.

Courting 2016 style

Far into the future, on a Saturday night while hanging out at a family gathering you’ll look at your niece and say, “Hey, want to go for a drive?” Now, this invitation has been rejected more time than if you tried to score against Lebron James. Cool, cool, cool. Her choice, truly. She throws you all when she says, “Sure.”

Her youngest sister is allowed to ride in the car with the strict warning, “You are to say nothing. Get it? Do not make one comment.” Oh we all get it. You assure her she can drive around the cul-de-sac neighborhood at whatever speed she would like. There is no rush. Only you never imagined a person could drive so slowly that the automatic locks scare you all about ten minutes later when she finally hits the speed that locks the car. You joke that you now understand what it must have been like to court in the 1800s when a boy took a girl out for a slow ride in a buggy. Turns out this is not a time for joking.

But courage begets courage and she’s willing to venture onto other residential streets. Often enough you go out driving together and it truly is fun. Only once did she ask you not to wince and only once did you say, trying to be calm but avoid getting rear-ended, “It is OKAY that we missed the turn. PLEASE DO NOT SLOW DOWN. YOU NEED TO HIT THE GAS, we cannot stop in the intersection of this major street when the light is still green. No worries, it’s all good. We’ll just go up to the next light BUT SERIOUSLY YOU NEED TO ACCELERATE.”

Turns out she likes driving with you more than other adults because her driving doesn’t make you as nervous as other adults.

And then it hits you.

Of course it doesn’t make you nervous. You’ve ridden in China. For years. Boom. Hidden talent. Thank you China.

Her mom comments that she takes corners too fast. And you wonder if you are the best to help her because, now that her mom mentions it, yeah, she is a bit like a Chinese driver rounding a corner. You hadn’t really noticed.

All that aside, if you are in the Denver area and have a child who needs to learn to drive, let me know. Riding with burgeoning drivers is a trip down memory lane. It is a way to visit China without needing a visa. It is a way to use experiences I never thought would transfer to America. It is a way to be me in unexpected ways. Truly, give me a call.

And other China peeps, might I suggest you find a new driver and bless them with time spent together learning to drive? Seriously. Chinese driving is the gift that keeps on giving.

{If you know this niece of mine, while not ready to go public with her skills, when it is time I tell you, there will be no more responsible driver on the streets. Okay, with maybe a bit of an aggressive streak. She is, after all, part Young! She read this post and approved it before it went public—all but the aggressive streak. Since it is more about her grandpa, mom, and aunts, she let me keep it in :)}


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  1. Gina August 29, 2016 at 6:50 am - Reply

    Ah, China driving. My favorite was the one way road that we regularly drove the wrong way because to enter it legally was a 20 minute 3 mile detour, and we just needed to get to that zhuang xiu store two blocks down. And everybody else did it too. Those were the good old days. ;) Sadly, I don’t think it’s carried over to driving with my 16 year old, maybe because he drives really fast, and for all the crazy driving in China, it was generally pretty slow!

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      Amy August 29, 2016 at 8:18 am - Reply

      Yeah, most of the in-city driving was pretty slow :). It was whipping along the “highways” where I had most of my “Jesus see you soon!!!!!!” moments :). AND I totally get going the wrong way if it saves you 20 minutes. :)!

  2. Mike August 29, 2016 at 7:33 am - Reply

    Yes! I totally agree with you, it’s much easier to teach a teenager how to drive after you’ve lived in China and experienced the traffic “suggestions” yourself.

    Then throw into the mix a teenager (or two) who has grown up in China! Oh yeah, it was…interesting, let’s say, teaching my two kids how to drive during the summer back in the U.S. after they turned 16.

    “But Dad, there was at least 10 centimeters between me and that other car!”

    “Why do I need to stop (at the stop sign)? I can see there’s no one else coming!”

    “You mean I have to park between the lines (at a parking lot)?”

    Fortunately, my kids were joking when they asked me these and other similar questions, exactly because they grew up in China and they were observant enough to know that these situations would be handled much differently in China.

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      Amy August 29, 2016 at 8:20 am - Reply

      Love it, Mike! Especially the “Why do I need to stop? I can see there’s no one coming!!!” Exactly. I do love a good inside joke though :)!

  3. Lisa August 29, 2016 at 11:57 am - Reply

    I love this, Amy! Thanks for sharing your talent in writing…both the serious and the oh-so humorous! :)

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      Amy August 29, 2016 at 4:28 pm - Reply

      Thanks Lisa! That about sums up life, doesn’t it :)!

  4. Patty Stallings August 29, 2016 at 5:57 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the good laugh today! I may have been honked at a few times in the US using driving rules I observed in China. :-)

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      Amy August 29, 2016 at 9:09 pm - Reply

      Hehehe, I think most of us who have lived in China can relate :)!

  5. Jo August 30, 2016 at 7:33 am - Reply

    I had the joy of teaching a 19-year old Chinese student how to drive on Minnesota this summer. I can assure you that getting him to drive faster was NOT a problem.

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      Amy August 30, 2016 at 1:51 pm - Reply

      Hahahah . . . you’ve met this niece. She is a dear, but let’s just say, her number one question is “What’s the speed limit?” and almost always she is below it.

  6. Debbie October 1, 2016 at 7:35 pm - Reply

    This is great! I have memories of being in the car with Mark B at SIT and the driver turning off lights or turning off the car to save gas. Mike-I’m sure that was crazy teaching them to drive after they grew up in China.

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