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.

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