Metro observations

Hong Kongers are impatient. There is no better evidence of this than our behavior on public transport, especially the MTR. We rush in before passengers can get off, often causing a stand-off not unlike a medieval battle. We squeeze into sardine-packed trains, even though the next one is only a minute away. Of course, people always manage to slip through the inches-wide gap between you and the wall with such agility that will make Cirque du Soleil jealous.

But when there is no gap to exploit, we willingly queue up. We don’t push the people in front of us. This is just common sense, because people are not gas – they don’t dissipate when you push. So pushing won’t get you there much faster. Apparently, the Shanghai metro travellers think otherwise.

To those unfamiliar with this “pushing culture”, travelling on the Shanghai metro can be exasperating, even dangerous. In one occasion, I nearly tripped, unprepared for the sheer force of the swarm pouring into the train. It could easily have led to a stampede. It would be interesting to see how long a Sumo wrestler can balance himself in the path of such a horde. But then I learnt the value of pushing when trying to exit the train, as the passengers happily blocked the door, none willing to let me pass. I was told that Shanghai residents favor coats with slippery surface, such as a down jacket, for this reason. A slippery coat makes it easier to gut through an otherwise impenetrable crowd.

Needless to say this is even more dangerous when on steps or an escalator. Yet people still push regardless of the obvious risk, even when travelling up. I just don’t get it – doing something that could potentially trigger a human-avalanche when you’re at the bottom doesn’t make much sense.

Maybe this is due to impatience, or, as some would say, a lack of civility. But I suspect this is also partly a way to vent the frustration in life. Aside from the usual stress of city life (inflation, competition, soaring property price etc), Shanghai residents also face a variety of social injustice, many of which are thankfully absent in Hong Kong. Shoveling people in metro could be a way of saying: “Why can’t I push people around when I get pushed around everyday?”

On a side note, I saw not only once, but twice, beggars onboard metro trains. The first one was an elderly woman carrying a baby on her back and walking on her knees. The second one was a blind flute player, guided by a young man who collected money in a glass bowl. They didn’t seem to be earning well, though, judging from the apathy of the passengers.

Shut up and get out of the way

The estate where I live is populated mostly by considerate and civilized people, but it does have its share of the obnoxious.

Yesterday I boarded the shuttle bus into an altercation between a middle-age couple and a young man.

At first they were accusing each other of jumping queue, but it didn’t take long for the argument to degenerate into an exchange of abuses, which in Hong Kong inevitably involve each others’ mothers.

What annoyed me most was the fact that the whole thing took place in the first two rows of the seats – the “priority seats” reserved for the elderly, pregnant ladies or other people who urgently need to sit down.

None of the three able-bodied adults had the slightest intention to offer their seats when a mother, who was carrying a huge load of groceries on one hand and balancing her crying baby on the other, struggled past.

And they were telling people to follow rules.

I gave my third-row seat to the mother, to spare her the trouble of squeezing into the back rows.

And get away from the noise.

What is in a name?

The other day I was reading The Importance of Being Earnest. In the play, Lady Gwendolen falls in love with Jack solely because of his fake name (the titular “Earnest”). Can one’s name actually be a factor of romantic attraction?

While a name doesn’t necessarily make the person attractive, I realize there are several names which I find especially appealing. I assume I’m not the only one who fancies particular names, but I want to know why I do.

I went through my list of names and discovered they have one thing in common – the last syllable is composed of a schwa and an “n” consonant.  Yes, that’s very close to the second syllable in “Kevin”. Maybe subconsciously I want to be with someone whose name rhymes with mine.

Surprisingly (or perhaps not so), another recurring feature on the list is alliteration – a starting consonant of “k”. That includes names that start with the letter “C” or “K”. So, does that mean I actually like people whose name sounds like mine? Let’s face it, Kevin, maybe you’re just narcissistic.

The only name on my list that carries both the alliteration and rhyme is “Karen”. But it’s not the name I like most, which is “Ellen”.

Before you ask, let me state that I’ve never met anyone with these names. So that rules out influence from real life people.

Perhaps it’s much easier to explain why certain names are repelling instead. We have plenty of them in Hong Kong – Apple, Strawberry, and the classic Highway. They are a major turnoff and anyone with the audacity to use them attracts nothing but sneer from me.