A Canadian in Beijing: Pedestrian Police in Shanghai

Walking in Shanghai is a completely different experience to walking in Beijing. Unlike the latter that includes constant sidestepping and a forced alertness to mopeds on sidewalks or enormous bicycles catching my heels, Shanghai is tame.

After checking out the Bund, my friend Sarah and I took to the underground walkways that help pedestrians cross the wide busy streets (oh, how civilized!) and emerged again onto Nanjing Rd East, known in all the guide books as a shopping mecca for tourists. What this means, usually, is “expensive” shopping. And, yes, that’s what we discovered.

(But, then again, we’re from Beijing.)

We wandered farther and found cheaper markets about ten minutes north. These were full of people — swarming in fact — and I came to appreciate a particular employment here in Beijing:

Pedestrian Police.

I was charmed by their official whistle that – not once, not twice, but three times – beckoned me into obedience and stopped my Beijing-borne desire to jaywalk.

These men and women stand at major intersections and don fluorescent vests, whistles on strings around their necks and ropes that actually tie in the pedestrians when the crowds start to misbehave. They literally draw the rope across the waists of those who are in front of the crowd and about to spill into the roadway. It most certainly has a damming effect on the flow of feet.

In Beijing, I have joked with fellow students about the best way to cross the street being to “attach yourself” to a group of others and to cross at the same time. This is the clue that it’s possible: others are doing it! That theory, as you may have noticed, mentions nothing about traffic lights.

Here in Shanghai, the traffic police will wave you back with annoyance as though you’re not sophisticated enough to understand the simplicity of those very same traffic lights. It’s amazing that after only one month, I have come to regard traffic lights as just part of the décor and not an indication of how I ought to conduct myself as a pedestrian! In my Canadian style, when I was yelled at by the first “officer,” I felt sheepish and immediately apologized.

He eyed me with curiosity.

Most people do.

Oh Shanghai, where’s your anarchy?

Final pic by Sarah Keenan. All the rest by Ember Swift.