1/22/10: Beijing, China
After 25 years of searching for my missing half (no, not Zhou), I’ve found it. It’s the half that has given me some of my best qualities: my love of the abacus, my squinty eyes, my lack of a necessity to shave, my random propensity for chili dogs (wait, maybe not), my ability to kung fu people and my knowledge of so many obscure Confucius sayings, to name a few. It’s the half that kept me going during the long nights of my short tenure at Wells Fargovia, as when it’s night in America it’s prime working time here. Yes, you guessed it, I’m in China.
In these 48 hours that I’ve had to breathe in the air of my people, I’ve learned not too breathe too deeply. Depending on what time it is, either the sun or the moon is blocked out by the ubiquitous smog. If we all know one thing about smog though, it’s that it is a sign of progress. I was expecting to see streets packed with small people pedaling rickety bicycles, but instead have seen nothing but cars with windows so tinted you can’t see the small people inside. The road near Zhou’s aunt’s apartment must be ten lanes wide, but it feels like much more. Why? Because lane lines here are like forks at Bdubs: they’re all around but everyone ignores them. I wouldn’t be surprised if I someday saw three cars miraculously squeezed side-by-side into the same lane. The motto here is clearly “Look out for #1.” Not only do you do what’s best for yourself, but also keep your eyes to the sky as you never know who’s peeing off a building. (Just kidding. We’ve only seen one person using the “public restroom,” and he was on the sidewalk.)
This somewhat selfish way of life keeps people moving forward through the day, and I’ve found out it also leads to a great deal of impatience amongst some. Last night at dinner the man at the table next to us was shouting so loudly that it looked like he was going to throw down in fisticuffs with the waiter. The cause of his outrage? Slow service.
That being said, confrontation is not all that commonplace. If you moved all New Yorkers here, the homicide rate would skyrocket. Have you seen the Trains in China youtube video? Although I’ve heard it’s actually from Japan (all us Asians look alike), Zhou and I can now believe it took place in China. Our first Chinese subway experience came during rush hour on our way to dinner to meet her dad’s coworker. We left the apartment at 4:30pm for a 6:30pm dinner, and if I weren’t bigger than everyone else we still would have been late.
Despite the already crowded cars and the long lines waiting to enter, getting on the subway was actually no problem. It’s amazing how many 100-pound people can fit into a 50-foot long subway car. (I used American measurements so people here would have no idea what I’m talking about. Although come to think of it they can’t access the blog anyway.) However, as our ride progressed no one got off and people kept piling on. It almost defied logic – how can we pass five subway stops and have not a single person exit the car? Here’s my theory: Chinese people like to get the most bang for their buck (to put it nicely), and since all rides cost the exact same they maximize value by staying on the subway for as long as possible, disregarding their need to get off earlier.
Anyway, by the time we were getting close to our stop, I wanted to take a picture of the crowd, but my hands were stuck in permanent cover-my-pockets / shove-others-away mode. The shoving didn’t seem to be working though, as we were slowly pushed against the far wall.
Wait, it’s our stop!
We clearly hadn’t been paying enough attention to everyone else’s body language, as it actually looked like most people wanted to get off here. They were all anxiously facing the door, so we didn’t try pushing them out of the way at first. It turned out though that perhaps the anxious faces were from the dwindling oxygen in the car, as the doors open and no one got off. (Duh! No one ever gets off.) An angry mob of 20 more people immediately tried to get on, and there we were still stuck against the back wall.
The reason this system works in China is because the compactness of the people allows them to easily slither from one end of the car to the other. Zhou worked her way through the crowds without much trouble (at least that’s what it looked like to me) and snuck off the car. I’m huge though. As the seconds ticked away before the door closed, I was left with two options: push or be pushed. The angry mob had nearly all entered the car, and I still had another four feet to get to the exit. It looked like four hundred. I made up my mind though and I began pushing. Like John Coffee in The Green Mile, I used my immense physical strength (relatively, in my case) and let out a Hulk-ian roar. The people around me started falling like dominoes, if the dominoes were all standing next to each other next to a brick wall. Like Barry Sanders in his prime, I saw the narrowest of openings and took a chance. Like Indiana Jones in one of those movies he made, I saw the doors blocking my escape inching shut. I got one leg out of the car. The doors inched closer, and my right leg was still stuck! Like a donkey being attacked from behind, I kicked my leg as hard as possible and pulled it out of the car. I had made it.
I love China.
Pictures of the Day: A wide selection of delectable seahorse, scorpion and larva.