Wednesday, August 6, 2008

How did this happen? I've become a stress-ball?!

Helsinki Station
Shanghai Station


About six months ago I was at the Shanghai train station waiting for my train to Suzhou when a Chinese businessman came and sat next to me. He broke the ice by asking me something about my mobile phone and soon we were chatting away about this and that. As usual, when chatting to someone local, questions like 'what do you think about China?' and 'what are your biggest likes/dislikes about living here?’ came up. The businessman then asked me if there was some Chinese habit that I found particularly strange/weird. Just as I was about to answer a train announcement silenced me, telling all passengers taking the D444 train to Suzhou that they were about to start letting people down to the platform to wait for the train. Apparently a lot of people were going to Suzhou because the second the train announcement came, a load of people got up from their seats and rushed towards the gate to the station platform. Some people even started running. It was 20 min until departure. The businessman and I watched the people stressing for about 5 minutes, until he got inpatient too and got up to go to the platform. I followed and then, when we were standing in the line to the gate, I told him that I found it funny that Chinese people always are so inpatient/stressed when they are taking the train somewhere. Even though there was still 15 min to go people were acting as if the train was leaving any minute. Just as I said this an older lady pushed herself passed me and me and the businessman shared a laugh. 

 

-You are right, the businessman said.  We Chinese people really are inpatient when we travel. I guess it is an old habit for many.... People should try to relax more. 

 

When we got down to the platform, however, the Chinese businessman showed that old habits die hard as he suddenly must have felt in a hurry and started half running towards his carriage. I couldn't help smiling. It was 12 min until departure and this man barely had time to say goodbye. Talk about feeling stressed! 

 

For the last 6 months I have been a quite frequent passenger on the trains between Shanghai-Suzhou, so I've been entertaining myself with watching people rush towards their carriages even though there is 15 min until departure (my favourite people to watch are girls in high heels that run!). 

 

Well, this has been my lame entertainment until I recently landed in Finland for a holiday. Seeing I had many places to visit in Finland (my bf's from there and his friends and family are spread out across the country) and no car, I've been taking the train everywhere... And how do you think I have been behaving on those trains? Well, just like the Chinese people I have been laughing at for the last 6 months!

 

First of all: I panic unless we buy our train tickets AT LEAST 4 days in advance. It doesn't matter that my bf tells me that the trains here rarely fill up, and that tickets never (unless it is Xmas) sell out. I refuse to believe him! I demand for him to reserve us tickets in advance, not leaving any room for being spontaneous when it comes to travelling. 

 

Second of all: When a train reaches the platform (where I am waiting, normally standing up), I have realised that I feel a bit stressed about getting on the train. Especially if I am far away from the carriage where I am supposed to sit. One week ago, when my bf and I were at a small, small country station in the middle of nowhere and the train came, I even started running!! My bf was embarrassed, but I couldn't help it. I got scared that because we were at such small station the train might just stop for a mere minute and I wouldn't be able to make it.... I bet there were some people on the train laughing at me. 

 

Thirdly: I always assume that my seat is always going to be occupied. Every time I get on a train and realise that my, assigned and already-paid-for-seat isn't taken I feel like something is wrong. In China my seat is normally ALWAYS taken by someone who is either taking a free ride or who's bought a standing ticket (although... can u still do that? No ticket office has offered to sell me a standing ticket for at least a year??) I ALMOST (but just almost) miss ushering people away? 

 

I never, EVER thought I would say this... but I kind off, reluctantly have to admit that I miss the trains in Shanghai! Especially the prices, but also everything else that comes with a train ride in China. I almost always start talking to someone on the train/on the train station and try doing that in Scandinavia... Someone might reply to you but they'll definitely think you're a freak. Over here we don't talk to strangers.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

China gets you. China is in your blood now.

wisemanofasia said...

I have to say its a dangerous game living in China when it comes to etiquette. I have been living in Beijing for 3 years and like you I find myself sniggering at the locals as they bash their way on and off public transport - planes, trains, buses the works they all seem to want to be on/off first!
I have relatives visiting for the olympics at the moment and yesterday whilst getting on the subway I pushed my way to the front of the queue - mainly because we had been waiting the longest and as the train pulled up everybody moved forward ignoring any system of queuing!
After sitting down on the train my mums friend said to me 'I guess after a while you think, if they're pushing I should push too'
I was a little embarrassed but it made me realise I am just as bad as they are!

WoAi said...

We all do it, we change our behaviour to adapt to the new environment as a matter of habit and sometimes as a matter of survival. Even my driving habits changed and now if I see a car trying to pull out of a side road, I will accelerate to close the gap between me and the car in front so the other guy can't slip in. In parts of LA I guess behaviour like that could get you shot!

Anonymous said...

impatient

Jonna Wibelius said...

Impatient AND unable to spell? This is just getting worse and worse....

Anonymous said...

All of you are so right. There is nothing wrong when you adjust your behavior in order to survive. I am originally from China and have been living in America for 2 decades. Last month I was in China. I did experience this reverse cultural shock with people cutting line. The worst one was getting off the airplane after we landed in China. As soon as the plane landed, all Chinese travelers stood up and grabbed their carry-on bags. When the plane stopped taxiing, they all rushed to the front of the plane in a stampede and hit people with their bags on the way. My wife, not from China, was shocked at the scene. Then leaving China was pretty much the same. Many Chinese travelers to H.K. (I assume they are all Mainlanders traveling to or working in H.K.) would just cut line by pushing their cart anywhere in between people where an empty space exists. You would think those Mainlanders who live or work in H.K. should have at least picked this basic etiquette of queuing that is evident with an average Hong Kong Chinese.

m--e said...

Isn't it great that we can laugh at ourselves doing the things we laugh at other people doing? :-)

Jonna Wibelius said...

Yeah it is quite funny how little time it takes to get used to certain habits. Being rude/cutting in line being one of them... When I came back from England I was so annoyed with everyone that were standing in the escalator (how does it go again... stand to the right walk to the left??) After 3.5 years in Australia I wanted to chit-chat to everything and anything, after 1 year in Finland I felt I needed a drink to be happy and after 2 years in China I often feel stressed when I take pubic transport/ run for the empty seats in the metro/ cut line without even thinking about it... I wonder what is next! Haha!

Hang said...

Lady, how could you miss the train? You almost made me burst into laughter. Good reading experience, haha ...

lygcgsun said...

lol,being a Chinese, I always get embarrassed when I take public transport in China. I am the kind of person that just too shy to rush and run to get a seat. Well, but this bad habit is in our blood. If you don't run or rush, you nver get a seat. So most people tend to go with the flow. It is kind of "natural selection" in a society way I guess.