24 Aug 2006
The Shanghai Metro (subway) commuters are infamous for their “enthusiasm.” The subway philosophy of 先下后上 (let people off first, then board) is blasted repeatedly during rush hour by station attendants each and every day, but it always falls on deaf ears as the hoarde surges to board the subway cars the split second the doors open, forcing the passengers who wish to disembark to shove and claw their ways through the subway doorway battlefield. It really is insane, and it shocks most newcomers to Shanghai.
I once said to a Chinese friend that the rush hour commuters are “like animals.” That comparison didn’t sit too well. Although at rush hour they may be doing their best imitations of subhuman creatures, the commuters are, in fact, human beings deserving of respect (if only because they are human beings). Somehow Shanghai’s particular societal circumstances–including cultural factors and a massive population–contributes to this inexplicably barbaric commuter behavior.
I’ve been riding the subway a lot lately on my way to ChinesePod, and I am forced to ride both Line 2 and Line 1 (the Evil Line) every day during morning rush hour (oh, the horror!). I have quite a few thoughts I plan to share about these commuters with whom I rub elbows (among other things) on a regular basis.
But somehow the term “commuter” doesn’t seem entirely appropriate. Social conditions have transformed them into something beyond what the mere term “commuter” implies; their behavior has already mutated into something else. They are… Shanghai’s commutants*.
* OK, I’m aware that commutant is a mathematical term, but I think you know what I’m going for here.