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How my nagging made Shanghai roads safer
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My expat friend jokes the "Linda factor" - a term awarded to me after pestering him on the dos and don'ts of drinking and driving - may have convinced him not to join his ball buddies for a few rounds of post-game beer the other night.

But then he quickly adds, maybe not.

I may never know why he chose the responsible route that evening, but I like to think I helped save him from a drinking and driving fine and temporary license suspension as China tightens rules on drunk-driving after incidents of drunk-drivers killing innocent people outraged the whole country.

My friend's car, reeking of alcohol from the backseat boozehounds, was a stench strong enough to warrant a breathalyzer test from the cops. They are increasingly patrolling the roads late at night and during the wee morning hours as the one-year countdown to the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai continues.

Luckily for him, he hadn't so much as had a single drop that night.

The topic of drinking and driving is something of a conversation starter for us these days. After one fateful occurrence, I may forever be remembered as something of a "brutal czar" on the issue.

It all began one Saturday night at a bar when a quick look over in his direction exposed his tomato-tinted face.

His high school pals insisted his complexion had nothing to do with the second bottle of Jack Daniels that had just been cracked at our table, but was rather due to his inability to tan after hours under the sun.

But I wasn't buying it.

Years of anti-drinking and driving campaigns back in Canada have turned me into a crazed disbeliever.

I immediately pounced on my friend, barking at him for his car keys when I soon learnt he planned to drive home at the end of the night.

Though I didn't recognize it at the time, I was in fact joining the ranks of Shanghai's traffic cops, the ones who are busy scouring the roads to make sure drivers have a blood-alcohol level of zero, which is required by law in China.

It's different than my home city of Toronto, where drivers are legally allowed behind the wheel after a few well-paced drinks - so long as they don't surpass the 0.08 blood-alcohol limit.

But in Shanghai, where bar goers consume alcoholic beverages for easily 40 yuan plus per glass, it annoys me when they bring their cars out, especially since taxi rides home within the city core run for less than 30 yuan.

That price doesn't even get the meter started in Toronto, or the T-dot as it's fashionably nicknamed.

My friend, however, reasoned that he'd been drinking responsibly.

At 185cm and 108kg, my friend is well capable of handling a few modest pours of the world-famous Tennessee whisky, but I was stuck on erring on the side of caution.

And so I spent the remainder of the night harassing him - as politely as I could - to leave his car behind and to take a cab home instead.

The final peace offering of 30-yuan cab fare eventually paid off when he conceded and hopped into a cab as we departed from the bar.

He still gives me a hard time about the "Linda factor".

I'm left quite impressed he left his car parked outside the bar that night, though he had to pay the parking fine for failing to pick his car up on time the next day.

Most Canucks back home would've shut me up a long time ago and driven home anyway, even if deep down inside they knew it wasn't right.

One thing is for sure, the next time we go drinking, I bet he won't be bringing his car - or me.

(China Daily September 2, 2009)

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