002 • SHANGHAI, CHINA

Click for Lightbox. (C) Remko Tanis

A WEDNESDAY IN JANUARY, 17:00:00

Shanghai traffic can be a terrifying experience. At least, that’s what all these foreigners in the city tell each other.

For Huang Guoli, Shanghai traffic is his office. He stands guard at the southwest corner of this crossing every day from 07:30 until 18:00.

Always the southwest corner, never one of the three others. He’s the senior Traffic Assistant on this crossing, which means he gets dibs on the corners. He likes the southwest one, ‘cause it’s closest to the newspaper kiosk, which has a little water boiler he can use.

Huang is used to people ignoring his commands and halting hand gesturing. They’ll cross the street whenever they feel like it, red light be damned. Been like that since he first started out here, in 2007. He stopped using his whistle in 2009. People don’t listen anyways.

Eleven years he’s been doing this job. He likes to think he’s prevented at least some jaywalkers from getting themselves killed. Sure, accidents still happen while he’s working, but hey, what’re you gonna do?

One thing got his blood boiling though. Two years ago, the police decided to actually start caring about traffic violations. These young policemen, fresh from the academy, showed up and stole the little thunder Traffic Assistants had. With their white gloves, ironed out blue shirts and dark sunglasses.

They fined violators left and right, helping to reduce the number of accidents. And now, people all of a sudden seem to value the fact that traffic is safer. If they wanted safer roads so badly, why did they ignore Traffic Assistants for so long?

Oh well. It’s 17:00h. Evening rush hour has started. Huang peers past the crowd of close to a hundred cyclists and scooter riders stuck at the red light he guards. Some black Audi way down the line gives his honker a solid workout, trying to creep to the front so he can be first to be last in the next traffic jam.

But that’s at another crossing. Nothing for Huang to worry about.