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Chinese people don’t know how to get on and off the subway

February 19, 2011

This girl thought it would make more sense to stand directly in front of the doors to the subway instead of standing aside, like a sensible person.

And it drives me crazy. It also makes no sense to me whatsoever. This isn’t the kind of thing you can conveniently blame on culture, like blatent racism or spitting in the streets. This is just stupid.

I take the Shanghai Metro subway system to work Monday through Friday. On the whole, I’m a huge fan of the Shanghai Metro. It’s surprisingly very, very clean — possibly the cleanest part of the city. They are shiny and pretty and bright, well designed. It’s easy to navigate, trains come frequently, and you can get anywhere worth being in the city in under an hour. Clean, logical,  and efficient is how I would describe the Shanghai Metro.

But then there are the people who ride it. I have two major pet peeves on the subway: sick people and idiots.*

The sick people I must ultimately forgive. It’s not their fault that they are sick and can’t afford to take a sick day. And I guess nobody ever told them you’re supposed to cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough up a lung when squished up next to a bunch of healthy people.

But the idiots…. oh, how they make my blood boil. It’s like they completely lack common sense about the basic laws of physics. It’s the worst during rush hour.

Now, let’s do a simple exercise. You’re preparing to board the subway at rush hour. You know it’s going to be very crowded on the train. So you wait to the side of the doors, and when the train arrives, you let all the passengers who need to get off exit the car, and afterwards, you get on the car. When you board, you end up standing near the doors because the car packed tight. The next stop is not yours, but people behind you need to get off; so, logically, you step onto the platform and move aside, let the people behind you disembark, then get right back on the train. Plenty of time to reboard.

None of of this has ever crossed the minds of 98% of Shanghai residents (and one percent of those are expats).

Yes, there are arrows on the ground that explain how the flow of traffic is supposed to work. Waste of money, Shanghai. Chinese metro riders scoff at arrows!

Instead what I described, riding the subway to work is WAR! Instead of queuing up to the side of the doors, people often stand directly in front of the doors and wait for the train (about 30-40% of riders do this). Then, when people arrive and need to get off, the idiots blocking the way does not stand aside. Oh no. They try to force their way onto the car before other people can get off! Why? I have no idea whatsoever. This causes much pushing, jostling, and general discomfort for everyone involved.

Then, once people push and shove and squeeze their way into a car full to bursting, they WILL NOT GET OFF until their stop. On a typical commute from home to work, I get stuck in the middle or back of a subway car and all of the people near the door refuse to move, but have no room to go anywhere else. So when my stop comes, they just push against me, and wiggle and contort their bodies until there’s a teeny tiny little space for me to barely squeeze through, while other people behind me, often panicking and shouting, push me toward the doors because they need to get off too. Meanwhile, people on the platform are trying to push their way on to the train, and, as usual, leaving no path for those of us who want to get off.

It’s a nightmare.

Angry as it makes me, my overwhelming state when this happens is confusion. Why don’t the people in front step off and let those behind them off, the people on the platform stand aside, and then everyone board together? It’s so much easier!!! Perhaps the world will never understand. I for one certainly won’t.

Oh, and also, this behavior applies to crowded elevators too, especially the part where people try to get on before letting you off.

*I would have listed people talking way, way too loud on their cell phones on this list too, but I realized this peeve of mine is not confined to the subway.

Title explanation: I mean Chinese people who live in China, not all ethnically Chinese people, for the record.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Michelle permalink
    February 19, 2011 4:58 pm

    I told you we should have bought you a face mask…

    • February 22, 2011 9:26 am

      You were SO RIGHT ABOUT THAT. I should take up wearing them – to filer out the coughs and sneezes (people never cover their mouths here!) and the pollution. I should just wear one all the time.

  2. Chris permalink
    March 7, 2011 4:05 am

    You’re totally right about them – I am a Chinese but I was bought up in Hong Kong . I can’t tell you enough about how the REAL Hong Kong Chinese HATE these Chinamen who always act stupidly and make other Chinese look bad. I said REAL Hong Kong Chinese because I think nowadays most Chinese living in HK are not really born and raised in HK anymore. They are just new immigrants who like to tell other people that they’re HK Chinese (a lie). I think the inland Chinamen may be the most uncivilized people I have ever seen. And when you try to tell them politely that they are not doing something right, they would go like, “What? you HongKongian think you’re so much better than us?”

    • March 10, 2011 9:52 am

      I didn’t mean to insult Chinese subway riders with this post, or call them uncivilized. I think this situation has arisen because everything is changing so incredibly fast in this country. People haven’t had the time to acclimatize. I don’t blame them, really. A modern city was just plopped on top of them – or for migrant workers, they practically moved to a different planet and then don’t know the rules. With time, and better law enforcement, these frustrating things will change.

  3. May 26, 2011 8:32 pm

    I don’t feel as vehemently as Chris, but there is resentment here when you’re on the crowded, but relatively civilized, Hong Kong train, and there’s a big bunch of mainlanders screaming, pushing, coughing up phlem, putting their feet up on the seats, etc.
    Of course, not all Chinese — mainland, HK or otherwise — are like that, but a few bad apples reinforce that stereotype.
    I’m sure there are broad cultural and social reasons behind it — like you say, rapid change on the Mainland. But that doesn’t make the end outcome any more pleasant.
    My friend was walking down a Shanghai street in sandals and a strange man spit on her bare toe. Ew.
    My parents and I went to the tail-end of the SH Expo. There was some problem, and we all had to be bussed out (long story) and it was the worst public transport experience I’ve ever had anywhere.
    That said, a Shanghai boy, a fat “little emperor” type, about 12 years old, did give his seat up to my elderly Dad on the subway. That was nice, and we thanked him for it.

    • Bob permalink
      July 13, 2011 1:26 pm

      My concern that it is not just a few bad apples.. the problem is far more entrenched than that. To claim that a few bad apples is rather naive. I have a feeling time won’t really fix it either.. these people aren’t just going to learn how to behave (standing to the right on the escalator, not barging their way onto the train pushing people trying to get off- defying logic and common sense).. this stuff is what people are supposed to learn when they are children.. like language. So then we have to wait till the next generation? What hope do they have when their parents don’t lead by example? So the perpetuating cycle of incivility continues forever. Are the locals discussing this stuff? Of course HK & TW people aren’t like that, we all know that, they weren’t educated by the CCP, thank god. I have seen the worst in human behaviour only on the mainland. Why? It is obvious, it is the system. People are people, we are all born the same, but into what system, into what environment, with what education, how are the children taught to behave. The CCP destroyed humanity in this country. Why is mainland Chinese society so uncivilized? even with it’s 5000 years history that every mainland drone immediately counters with on this issue. Am I wrong? Is there nothing wrong here? Please, the ren tai duo excuse is also ignorance. I think the problem lies in denial. A denial that anything needs to be done. Oh theres just too many people, mei ban fa. Look at the relative population density of Japanese cities, they are packed, no matter what happens to their economy, people will behave in a civilized manner.

  4. March 25, 2012 1:53 am

    This same thing happened to me in Hong Kong last night as I was trying to exit the subway – and then some stupid woman yelled at me saying to let her in first before I get out. She also made a horrid attempt at English by saying “f*** u” to me. Honestly, from where I came from, it is a common sense courtesy to let people people exit first, and then get it – it’s so much simpler without all the pushing and shoving. Isn’t it also quite obvious that once you let people alight first that there will be more room for you inside the subway/train compartment? Is this really so hard to comprehend? After living in Hong Kong for 3 months, I understand that shoving and pushing occurs on a daily basis, especially on the subway but SHEEEESH, that woman yesterday was unbelievable. It is people like her that represents a minority of the Hong Kong population that creates a bad impression on the minds of tourists. I have heard from many of my friends (who came to HK for a short period of time as tourists) claiming that Hong Kong people are the rudest when it comes to riding the subways, pushing, waiting in line, etc… but their claims are based on their experienced with only a small proportion of the population. How unfortunate — the HK metro is one of the best mode of transportation (in comparison to Toronto, Chicago, etc…) in terms of cleanliness, speed, frequency, etc… but as the saying goes, “the people makes a country”.

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