On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Cairo traffic can drive you up the wall

Traffic lights in Cairo appear to be  merely for decoration, and the use of  horn seems compulsory.

Almost all vehicles, especially the 
city's 74,000 taxis, look like they 
should be in a junkyard but their 
brakes work perfectly.

Motorists don't believe in air-conditioning, which means if you are a car  salesman here you won't be able to  depend on selling optional accessories.

Despite the scorching sun, which  reached
41C over the past week, no  one seems to
be complaining  except  Malaysians.

Grim-faced senior aides of Prime 
Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad travelling in one van had
to  remove their jackets each time
they  got into the vehicle.

Taxi drivers, often with one hand on  the
wheel and a cigarette in the other,  do
not seem to be affected by the  city's
polluted air.

And Cairo's motorists often disregard the one-way-street sign; a one way street
can suddenly become two way.

If you're a visitor and driving, never assume an Egyptian is turning  right as indicated  it's possible he is  turning left.

The highway code is presumably  not
compulsory for driving tests, if  the
road manners of the drivers are  anything
to go by.

The locals are a vocal lot and are  often
engaged in shouting matches  with the
traffic police.

Taxis come to a screeching halt  wherever
they like. My driver, Mohamed, reassured me it was all right  to stop on a bridge during peak hours  for a shot of River Nile.

“Don't worry. You can do anything  you
want in Cairo. No traffic rules,''  he
smiled as he fidgeted with my camera.

Despite the chaotic traffic system, I  am
told there are hardly any fights  between

Neither do they quarrel in the middle of the road over a minor accident.  Just drive off and pay for your own  repairs.

Taxi drivers were surprised to hear 
about Malaysian road bullies. They 
don't carry hockey sticks in their vehicles, only cassette tapes of the
latest  belly-dancing pop songs.

Parking in Cairo is another headache. There is no multi-storey parking.

With 1.6 million private cars in the 
city, it's not surprising that there is a  shortage of parking lots. Nobody  seems to have an answer to the problem.

Street urchins eke out a living demanding money from taxi drivers who  park near shopping areas. In most  cases, the passengers are asked to pay  the children.

Some of these children sell newspapers and bread at road junctions. Others wipe
the dusty windscreens of taxis and cars for a “small fee.''

If you choose to catch a bus, you'd  have
to be agile. Most of the city's  7,500
buses do not stop long enough  for
passengers to get on board safely.

Another road sign that is a mere 
decoration is the zebra crossing. You 
can wait all you want, no motorist will 
stop for pedestrians. You have to 
sprint across.

Bad driving is not just confined to  the
city. During a trip out of town, the 
taxi driver told me I wouldn't have 
problems enjoying the countryside.

He said the trip would be smooth  because
of the freeways.

The “freeways'' turned out to be  dusty
roads, and we had to stop several times while donkeys, sheep and  camels crossed the road.

Taxi driver Mohamed wanted to  know if
one could drive from Kuala  Lumpur to

“Do you have such roads in Malaysia? Can you drive to Singapore? Is it  far?'' asked Mohamed, whose only excursion
out of Egypt was a trip to Saudi Arabia.

He would probably knock himself  out if
ever he gets to drive in Malaysia.

For first-time Malaysian visitors to  Egypt,
my advice is don't “just walk  like an
Egyptian''  you may have to  drive like one to get around Cairo.