Chinese traffic — a bad day of traveling

Our time in Asia has come to an end, and we are ready to move on for new adventures in Africa. However, our last few hours in China took an unexpected turn. Let us start by saying that we are totally okay, we just want to share that traveling contains a whole lot of different experiences — god ones, along with bad ones — which all belong to the big chunk of memories we will come home with 🙂

We were heading towards Lanzhou Airport in China, which is located about an hour away from the city. The easiest way to get there is to take the airport bus from the city center, which leaves several times an hour. The bus was super comfortable, and we were relaxing and chatting — looking forward to change continent. The airport is only a few kilometres away, there is not a lot of traffic, the bus is almost alone on the wide two-lane road, and we are moving quite fast. 

As we are driving into a crossing, Gitte sees a car approaching from the side. The bus driver honks the horn and steps on the brake, but too late: We feel a bump when our bus drives frontally into the side of the car, and then a stronger bump when the car is pushed sideways into a lamppost and the bus suddenly comes to a complete stop. This all happens very fast.

Everybody on the bus is shocked and confused. A guy is lying on the floor in the aisle with his suitcase. Other passengers express pains from hitting the seat in front of them. We had been using the seatbelts and had not really felt much of a bump. Gitte had seen the car coming, and is worried about the people in the car. Ulrik tries to get the bus driver to open the door, but the driver is very shocked, and is on his phone calling. When he finally opens the back door the aisle is full of confused passengers trying to get out.

When we get out of the bus we quickly get to the front of the bus to see what has happened. The car had been squeezed between the bus, which had hit in the passenger side, and the lamppost, which had hit the car behind the driver. The car driver was visibly shocked, but seemed ok. He had some blood in his face, and sat passively in his seat. The man in the passenger seat had apparently been knocked unconscious, but you could hear his breath from outside of the car. He had a lot of blood in his face. Nobody was on the backseat. Luckily both men had used the seatbelts, otherwise they would have been far worse off. The car is locked, so we cannot immediately get to the men.

The passenger wakes up and makes some noises (it may have been Chinese, or may just have been grunting). Gitte tells him though the broken window to remain calm and move as little as possible, but he does not speak English, and Gitte does not speak Chinese. Meanwhile the other bus passengers had exited the bus and are now watching the scene — some taking pictures. It appears that first aid courses are not very widespread in China. Even the policemen in the nearby police booth (which may actually have seen the accident happen) did nothing but call for an ambulance. 

While trying to comfort the injured passenger in the car, Gitte realises that the smoke from the car engine has developed into a fire. The two men are still stuck in the car. She tries to inform the police officers on site, but they either not understand or do not see it as something they need to handle.

In the meantime, Ulrik rushes into the bus to look for the fire extinguisher, which should be there according to the safety briefing video shown at the beginning of the bus ride. He finds it, checks that the pressure is ok, notes that the hose is damaged, and removes the hose while approaching the burning car. At the same time the bus driver had found another fire extinguisher in the trunk of the bus, this one with an intact hose. Ulrik swaps extinguishers and puts out the fire through the damaged hood.

The shocked car driver must also have seen the smoke; he has unlocked the car and exited. Some of our fellow bus passengers had woken up to deed and started removing the injured passenger from the car, while Gitte tried to hold his head. The blood in his face came from a thumb-sized hole above his eye covered by a patch of skin. Gitte found her face cloth to stop the bleeding, while asking an English-speaking Chinese co-passenger to ask the car passenger to stop moving around and lay down. After making sure the car is no longer on fire Ulrik comes by and examines the car passenger. It appears that the head injury is his only trauma. Good thing that he had been using the seatbelt. But his head needs some attention.

Ulrik finds the bus driver and asks him to open the trunk containing our backpacks. The bus driver is still visibly shocked, and is talking on two phones at the same time. Somehow he understands the message and opens the trunk, and Ulrik finds our first-aid kit and puts a compress bandage around the poor car passenger’s head.

Shortly thereafter the ambulance arrives, and at around the same time another bus from the airport bus company arrives and picks up the stranded bus passengers. Sitting on the backseat of the second bus with all of our luggage Ulrik is cleaning the blood off Gitte’s hands and arms with wet-wipes. A few minutes later we arrive at the airport, and a swept into the usual chaos.

As first mentioned we are both absolutely fine, although we have become very aware how we can hire transportation that includes seatbelts. Also, we feel extremely grateful that we were actually able to act in the situation and not — like the majority of our co-passengers — had no clue what to do about it.

As a take-home message from this experience we would like to ask you a few favours:

  • Always use the seatbelt.
  • Take a first aid course.
  • Equip your car with a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit.

And finally, please act, and don’t be like the mob of people who cannot help but can only take pictures.

This blog post contains absolutely no pictures — we were busy doing other things 😉

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