Ten Seconds of Mayhem: Wudaokou Railway Crossing, Beijing China

The distinct shrill of the warning siren from the railway crossing resonates throughout the area so dropping a couple of gears I stand on the pedals and cycle as fast as possible in a bid to get there before the gates go down. It’s a warm early summer’s evening and the red LED rope lights draped across the length of the barriers are visible right from the end of Shuangqing Lu as they are lowered. Damn, I’m not going to make it tonight!

It’s always a sight to behold when a train’s coming. Wudaokou is central to Tsinghua and many other important universities so it’s a really busy area moreso due to the thousands of students who use bikes to get around. The crossing is located next to a double crossroads so the traffic rapidly tails back in all directions on either side.

Arriving at the crossing the lunacy has already started and I can feel it’s going to be one of those crazy nights.  A motorcyclist has tried to get under the barrier at the last second as it came down and dropped the bike. His passenger limps off and stands to one side while he awkwardly tries to pick his machine up off the tarmac.

The siren is really loud now though a warning message repeated on a loop raises above it hurting my ears

‘Xingren che liang qin zhuyi. Huoche jiu yao kuai guo lai le…’

Passer-by. Please pay attention to other vehicles. The train is coming…

In a massive act of queue jumping a guy drives his white Hyundai up the now empty oncoming lane, parking at the head of the main line. Showing his intent, he’s left it at an angle ready to cut up the car next to him as soon as the barrier’s lifted.

click to enlarge

As per usual the number of bikes, mopeds and motorbikes builds up forming a large crowd around the cars, filling both lanes. Tonight there are a number of fast food delivery riders all in black and yellow with matching top boxes forming a line up front closest to the barrier. There are also a number of three wheeled machines that are built to carry heavier loads such as sacks of rice and whatnot as well as countless machines with pillion. With nothing to do for the next few minutes inevitably lots of people start smoking and the distinctive toxic secondary aroma quickly finds its way under my nose along with an ample dose of exhaust fumes, yeeeech!

The distant rumble of the train beings proceedings to the next phase. One of the guards in green uniform signals down the track with a heavy duty flashlight to the driver while the others stand on either side to ensure no one tries to do anything stupid. As the train thunders past, the pack inches forward as close to the barrier as possible in expectation creating a singular moment of dynamic tension. The chap on a motorbike next door eyes me up and down as I prepare to go. Dropping his bike into first gear he opens the clutch just enough for the bike to move slightly forward so the front end is now already under the barrier. A guy wearing a suit to my left on a flash new black Yamaha throws his cigarette down on the floor like a gangster in order to concentrate on the task ahead.

There is only one advantage of being first off the block but it’s well worth it. That is you won’t get tangled up in the chaos that occurs as both waves of traffic meet. You have to have your strategy nailed down before the starting gun goes off. I know I can beat Hyundai man but not the motorcyclists either side of me so I plan let the guy to my right go ahead and then cut in front of Hyundai man and use him as a rear guard shield.

And they’re off! The train passes and the motorcyclist to my right is away like a rocket as soon as there’s clearance under the barrier. Obviously he hasn’t done this before though. Hitting the first track way too fast, his arse leaves the seat and he clings onto his machine like he’s riding a bucking bronco. Regaining some semblance of control, he then encounters the oncoming wave of traffic and is forced to slam on the brakes sliding sideways. Nice one on that mate!

As per usual I’m off to a good start and Mr Hyundai is surrounded by bikes weaving all over the place, impairing his cutting in manoeuvre. Slow down at the tracks and be as mindful as possible. They bisect the road diagonally so you have to turn into them to avoid getting your wheels jammed in. Two girls on a moped go into the tracks all wrong and the one on the back drops her ice cream all over her lap before it’s deposited on the tarmac. On the other side, a three wheeler loses a clear blue cylindrical five gallon water container. It hits the floor with a bang, bouncing once into the path of a number of bikes sending them off in different directions.  

It always amazes me how few people you see on the deck along with their bike in Beijing all considering. Really there should be people sprawled all over the tracks.

Maybe they’ve developed some special powers of intuition.

34 replies

  1. My goodness! You have patience, speed, and balance. I will never again complain when I don’t make the yellow light at a traffic signal. It’s surprising with the amount of people on the road, no one is pushing or running folks over. Engrossing and scary read! 🚦 🚥 🏁

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hiya Rose > I took out insurance a few months ago with special attention to accidents on the road. You do get hit or fall off occasionally. So far nothing major to write home about. Driving is the worst. Thanks for dropping by mate


  2. I’m wondering how long it took you to work out the best technique for a cyclist at railway crossings. You reeled all that off so well, it sounds like it’s become second nature. I’d be the first one on the floor. Fascinating read, Andy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hiya Millie. Well you have to take each crossing differently depending on the competition next to you. Thanks for dropping by Millie. I’m enjoying your book btw:) Have a wonderful Sunday 🙂


  3. Andy, They’ve done studies on how people react when they have little space around them. Of course, the results showed that humans were much more considerate and humane when they had some personal space. I think this is why the Chinese are as aggressive as they are in crowds. They have to fight for breathing room and space – territorial imperative. Just keep safe, my friend. Clare

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hiya Clare. I dont think Chinese people are aggressive at all. They can lose their temper from time to time like all of us but generally they are a peaceful bunch. They dont go busting into other people’s countries like the States or the UK. In terms of crowds they have developed an extra sense to get around people and navigate crowds, especially traffic jams ha ha

      Liked by 1 person

      • Good morning, Andy. Yes, if you are in a country with that many people, I guess it’s a survivor skill. You are getting the hang of it, though. I would love to see the US military keeping their nose out of other country’s business. Between them and the jerks we have running for office, I may just move to China! Milanda and Shengdong would love that. Clare

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hiya Clare > Its a no win situation I guess. How are the classes going these days (change subject lol) and also how is the mystery going? Wishing you a wonderful Sunday and productive week ahead 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hey, Andy – I have my classes prepared and will be teaching Writing to Share in August. We’re going to North Carolina for a few days this week and then to Maryland the week after. Then, in July we’ll go to the Berkshires to restock some of the stores that have A Berkshire Tale. Hopefully, I’ll have The Pacas Are Coming by then and can leave some copies of those on consignment. So, we will be traveling somewhat but not very far.
        The mystery is at a total stand-still and I hope to pick it up again this week to edit, etc. I don’t think it will be out until the fall at the earliest.Tomorrow, I intend to do a blog post. Not sure on what???? How’s your writing coming along?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wow you are super busy at the moment Clare. Do you ever get frustrated that there’s just not enough time to do anything? I’m unable to blog at the moment because I’m focused on story-boarding for the fictional series (2 weeks so far) and then planning for the trip. You can only focus on one thing at a time right?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Andy, I use to get frustrated when I was working. There were so many things I didn’t have time for. But being retired, no one’s the boss’a me! So, I can pick and choose my priorities. I just finished a blog post I had no idea I’d be writing when I went to sleep last night. I intended to get up late, and get back to editing the mystery. But I read an article and that set me off. I like the spontaneity. I’m so glad you’re working on the series. And I do wish you a safe and interesting trip. Take care.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wish I didnt have to go to work today blaaaagh ha ha > The story boarding has turned into its own unexpected world leaving me no time for anything else. 8 books in total minimum. Still it will be a wild ride when its done that’s for sure. Take care Clare > Have a great week mate

        Liked by 1 person

    • Yes it was kind of overwhelming when I arrived. The first night I was taken to the largest and most packed department store ever. I couldnt believe it. Glad you liked the post and thanks for dropping by. Have a brilliant weekend there.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a fantastic description of life on the road in Beijing – I feel the tension!! Love that line: “his arse leaves the seat and he clings onto his machine like he’s riding a bucking bronco.” – Made me laugh – I could completely visualise it! Hillarious – thanks for cheering up my evening! Take care on those roads!!!!! xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hiya Reading the Book. Glad you like it and thanks for the double follow. Super preoccupied at the moment so not posting much but WordPress is always the best place on the internet for me 🙂 Take care

      Liked by 1 person

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