China miniblog 7. Queuing and walking around

Unless you are very rich, or you prefer to travel to uninhabited location, one of the first experiences with any new place will be the flow of pedestrian traffic – the way people go about doing their shopping.

Beijing and Shanghai are different from any places I’ve ever been to. (I’m not Sinbad, I give you that.) You remember those Axe commercials where hordes of bikini-clad women are rushing towards one helpless guy with the force of a tsunami? Well, every time the door of the underground opens, you kind of feel like that. Pretty girls and all. People just do not wait for you to get out. They pour in. If you’re in the way, that’s too bad for you, but they will still push in; it’s up to you to get out of (or into) the vehicle. People from behind cut in front of you when you wait in front of the door to open, trying to force their way in or out, even though you are right in front of the door. Once a guy in his 40s did a leaping jump into the metro from 2 meters while the doors were closing, slamming into me with full force, but he did not even acknowledge the full-contact rugby-tackle. He just stood up, and started to read his phone.

The same thing can be seen with queues: there is no concept of what a queue is. While during the London Riots, even the looters queued up while they were looting. Here if you’re not pushy, you will not get served. (Or get onto the escalator. Or anywhere where queues are formed.) While I was waiting to pay for some gifts in a typical tourist-trap, I saw a girl standing in line waiting. When her turn came, a middle-aged woman simply jumped ahead of her from the side (she was lurking there, bidding for her time), and the girl instead of tearing her throat out with her bare teeth (like I would have done) simply waited until she finished.

Interestingly, just as with driving, there’s no aggression here. It seems to be a social contract -every man for themselves -, and nobody takes it personally. This was something I had to keep remind myself of, because public transport can sometimes be a very nerve-fraying experience.

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