The 5 People You Meet on the Beijing Metro
I’ve been riding the subway more. I don’t know why. I’ve never before been particularly masochistic nor do I generally enjoy close physical contact with strangers. It just seems an economical way to get around the city now that every available road surface is jammed with multi-colored bicycles. Having spent quite a few commuting hours below ground of late, I’ve started to distinguish a taxonomy of my fellow passengers, including several species which I find it best to avoid:
She’s barely taller than three pieces of tofu stacked on top of each other but insists on toddling around in spiked heels like a rum-soaked stripper. God forbid you end up behind her while approaching either stairs or an escalator. How these young women avoid a mass epidemic of high ankle fractures is a Chinese mystery akin to Panda libido and Xi Jinping’s actual hair color. Personally, I don’t blame these girls as much as I blame idiot HR managers in Beijing who require the company receptionist be taller than 1.6 meters just to answer a telephone.
Loud Laowai Guy
Dude, they can hear you. You’ve seen this guy, almost always in a group, pontificating loudly in English about the people right next to him as if they have no idea what he’s saying. Yo, Frat Boy … even though the only Chinese words you may know are pijiu and chuan'r you might want to remember that many of your fellow passengers have been studying English from the time they could eat solid food. The only reason they’re not telling you to shut your piehole is because they are too busy contemplating the grammatical and syntax implications of calling you a ‘douchebag’ versus a ‘douchenozzle.’
The Meandering Messengers
You can spot Meandering Messengers from across the platform, heads down, tapping on their phones, careening into their fellow commuters like hyperactive loose electrons. When trying to get from point A to point B (for example during the approximately 20-mile walk required to switch lines at the Dongsi Metro stop) nothing will gum up the works faster than two or three Meanderers whipping out their phones and switching from a normal forward progress to a semi-synchronized half-speed lobotomized lurch. For what it’s worth, they’re also impossible to get off the bottom of your shoe after you step on one accidentally.
Aggressive Seat Guy
Some might argue that this character shouldn’t be gender specific, but I have an easier time being jostled aside for a place to sit by Granny Liu and her cane then by some young angry dude shoving his way to a seat before the doors even fully open. I know the subways are crowded and having a seat can make a long ride much more pleasant, but it’s a seat on the subway not the last plane out of Saigon. Going full aggro in pursuit of a place to put your ass for five minutes just seems weird and angry.
They work in tandem, usually holding hands, and sometimes wearing matching outfits. They rush into the car and…stop. Right where they are and right in the middle of the door. It doesn’t matter if they’re going one stop or five, they ensconce themselves in the middle of the only available entrance and exit and do everything except build a nest made of twigs, leaves, and their own saliva. The only real fun is when this species’ natural enemy, Aggro Seat Guy (see above), comes barreling in at full speed causing the female Stuffer to squawk hysterically while her mate makes useless threat gestures with his appendages and throat. Always high comedy.
Enjoy your commute.
Jeremiah Jenne is a writer, educator, and historian based in Beijing since 2002. He maintains the Chinese history and culture website Jottings from the Granite Studio is also the founder of Beijing by Foot, which offers historical walks, tours, and workshops in Beijing. You can find him on Twitter @granitestudio.