Nanjing Walkabout

Ten years ago bicycles were a ubiquitous part of Chinese culture. But in less than a decade bicycles were replaced with cars, motorcycles and mopeds. Walking the streets of Nanjing is challenging and mentally exhausting. I took Haoyang’s (my TA) warnings seriously from the beginning and in a very short time my head naturally darts in all possible directions before stepping into any street, alley or driveway. The din of horns blowing is relentless and only seems to settle down late at night. Even from the distance of my air-conditioned apartment on the twenty-third floor I can hear them all; courtesy beeps, impatient honks and the long, loud blast of the police cars that seem to part the four-wheeled sea slowly, but surely. Moststreets here were not designed with a car culture in mind and the clogged intersections and traffic signals are chaotic to an outsider. I’m a driver, enjoy the road and earned my road warrior stripes from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles and beyond. San Francisco with a manual transmission? Did it! Chicago? Piece of cake (who doesn’t love quadrants??). London rush hour (I think that’s all the time) with wrong-side driving, certainly. Dusty roads of Baja Norte with a couple margaritas (not recommended) down the hatch . . . yes indeedy. But I cannot fathom any reason I would ever, truly, ever get behind the wheel of a car in Nanjing. Death wish, nervous breakdown . . . excluded. But perhaps what may have been the most bizarre observation was the skillful maneuvers of a woman with a very slow moped with large cart attached filled to maximum capacity with a wide assortment of coffee mugs. Not plastic mind you, but ceramic and glass cups in all shapes and colors. And as I watched her inch through the traffic not a single cup moved . . . I was transformed.

One more thing and I’ll move along. It’s Friday night in Nanjing so it must be poodle night. Yes, as in poodles . . . curly-haired dogs. On my evening stroll to locate dinner there were poodles to the left of me poodles to the right . . . I do not exaggerate. White poodles, peachy poodles and yes . . . even rainbow poodles.

Dr. Dawn Marsh
Department of History

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