Friday, 3 December 2010

BEDiD 3: The Fear in Their Eyes

There is something quite magical about travelling in China. No, it's not the stunning views that fly past as you steam along on the fastest commercial train in the world. No, it's not the array of historic and modern sights that greet you in cities across the country. It is the fear in the eyes of a fully grown businessman in Shanghai as he barges past the queue, launches himself into the carriage and positively dives for the nearest vacant seat, only then to suddenly become engrossed with something on his iPhone as an elderly lady with a hunchback and cane stands near him.

I love China, I adore the Chinese, but something about travel brings out the worst in these people. Getting on an off any kind of long haul transportation, be it train, bus or plane, is like a scene out of War of the Worlds. It is every man for himself, no matter whether you have a reserved seat or not, you MUST be the first person to board and get in your seat so you can sit there, smugly surveying the other, lesser passengers as they follow behind you.

The Chinese are not Japan or Korea; countries that politely queue as they wait for the subway, and that will scowl at you for talking on your mobile on the commute into work. A lot of the social structure and levels of respect that still reign true for their Eastern neighbours were stripped away during the cultural revolution. The Chinese will spit in the street, yell down the phone on the bus and barge you out of the way boarding the subway quite happily, and when you gently remind them of the social norms adhered to throughout the rest of the world, "There is a queue you know." They will do little more than say, "Oh," look back at the people they just jostled past with a huge grin, and then stand as still as a rock, facing forward, as if we will not notice them if they stop moving.

Okay, I appreciate this is not a purely Chinese phenomenon, these dog farts exist throughout the world, it is just a high proportion of those dog farts live here. And it is definitely not the minority who thunder towards the still moving bus like a tsunami as it pulls into its stop.

I am British. I am appalled when the world's most democratic symbol, the queue, is thrown out of the window.

So if you ever come here, just consider yourself warned, travel with a crash helmet and a bucket full of patience.

The Great Book of Chinglish, Entry 1.


Chinese Root/ 当然 , Dāngrán

Meaning/ "Of course", "Obviously"

Mary: If someone pushed in front of me in the queue for the subway, would you punch his lights out for me?

Da pi: Dangers!


Brett said...

haha, yes! beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Do they yell at each other for and while barging past queues too?
You really don't have to travel to the other side of the world to find a country with a high proportion of 'those dog farts'. I'm Dutch and not proud of the war that breaks out around me every time I'm about to board a train.
I think the fact that you're British has a lot to do with your strong aversion to this phenomenon though. Because, while I do agree with you, my initial reaction to this entry was shrugging my shoulders and thinking 'you'll get used to it', which, I must add, is not completely true, don't worry. But I warn you, don't expect a simple "Oh" here, you'll more likely receive a "Go mind your own business, you -". Use your imagination to end that sentence.

Write about something fun tomorrow? My own comment just depressed me.

Keyta Hawkins said...


Jake said...

Well said. It is indeed a shame that they are this way, even while in other countries.

Germany is a popular tourist destination for Asians in general, and the Chinese that go there are completely clueless as to how things are supposed to be.

Our group leader told us that when we were at a tourist destination to let them go ahead of us, simply because in a tight situation, they have no problem just 'squeezing' themselves in, when you yourself thought that there was absolutely no more room for another person there.

Needless to say, he was very much correct. Also they were very quick to go through these destinations, as if they didn't really want to be there, even though they were already in the country.

And, I loved what you said so much, I quoted you on my blog.

Allayna said...

I definitely felt a bit of this when I went, just not with travel. Waiting in the immigration line in Bejing was bad because it just took forever, and everyone kind of lumped in crowds instead of lines. Then in the World Expo, I realized that you have no personal bubble, and if you leave a space, someone will skip you. I actually became accustomed to it, but I worried about disrespecting the old people.
But, as you said, that happens in a lot of places, right? I don't know from experience, but my Spanish teacher always said they disregarded personal bubbles.
Overall I didn't find peopel rude, about it, but, then again, you're having a more legitimite living experience.
So, there's that and the looks you get for being a foreigner. I made a few children cry, I think, by being the first real live mulatto they'd ever seen.

Dianlin Huang said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dianlin Huang said...

hi, good to see some new posts about China here. I have a German friend who utterly dislikes this kind of negative phenomena you mentioned, such as jumping a queue, dirty toilet, talking loudly or spitting in the public. But as a native Chinese I can feel , this aversion sometimes, possibly unconsciously, tends to evolve into sort of contemptuous emotions, rather than sympathetic understanding and criticism.Even in China, a lot of people criticize these negative things. But the reality is the population is BIG, highly stratified and diversified, and the society has been undergoing a lot of upheavals and huge transformations. While some are well educated and polite, living a typical middle class or even wealthier life, others are illiterate and deprived, struggling for survival at the margin of the society, understandably without any sense of what you call ‘democratic symbol'. Indeed, there is no standard image of Chines, or any other people in the world, over there. It depends. If you go to the train station, you have more chances to see people jumping the queue as a lot of them could be poor migrant workers from the countryside. It could be totally different in a museum or art gallery where the educated display their ‘civilized'way of life.

Dianlin Huang said...

PS. actually your post reminds me of similar reaction to ruralites from the urbanities in China. They think the rural migrants are dirty, uncivilized, not knowing even very basic things about how an urban life should be.