Sunday, July 29, 2007

There are moments I am confronted with the reality that I really live here. These are the moments when I succumb to the same situations that every other person in this city faces. As an expat, it can be easy to avoid many of these realities, but some are impossible to completely escape. I have air conditioning, electricity, a shuttle service with my apartment, a dryer, a dishwasher, a refrigerator full of food- many creature comforts that my Chinese counterparts do not have. While I do have all of these things, I find I am still bound by the laws of physics, and therefore, largely affected by travel and the sheer volume of people in this city.

When Phil and I first arrived here, there were several things we marveled at. One was the amount of people on the subway at rush hour. While the number of people was astounding, more amazing, was how they got onto the subway. Rushing to get on, people push and shove, contort their bodies, and get far closer to strangers than they would otherwise find acceptable. I found it unusual that people rushed to arriving trains when another one would follow within 2 minutes. After all I thought, “What is another 2 minutes in the larger scheme of things?” I would soon learn.

I have been journaling since our first trip to China. It is interesting to look back on previous entries and read about the different things I found interesting, amazing, and outright strange. The subway situation has definitely been a focus of several of my writings. In one entry I wrote: “I rushed to my first subway today- I still refuse to body slam a large group of people to get on- so I wait.” I remember that moment clearly. I remember thinking I would never rush to the subway unless I absolutely had to catch the train. Two months after living here though, I found myself, like many other residents of this city, rushing to catch the train, desperate to reclaim any amount of the time Shanghai seems to steal away from you.

If you read my previous entry on T.I.C moments, you may recall my comment on “rush hour on the subway- when more people cram onto the subway then you thought physically possible- and throw a few more in there for good measure”. When I wrote those journal entries, I swore I would never cram onto a subway- ever. I still maintain there are good reasons for this. One- I am claustrophobic, two- I don’t enjoy having my head nestled in some stranger’s armpit, three- if a person is going to get bird flu, I happen to think this is a perfect environment for transmission, and four- if the subway ever broke down…..I hate to think of what would happen.

All of this said, I had to get to work the other day, and I found myself being that person. For the first time, I was the one who crammed onto the train at the very last second. I was the one who defied spatial reality and pressed into a crowd of people while the doors closed in almost clipping my nose. There I was, with no space to breathe, arms pinned down at my side, and my entire body and face smashed up against the window. If I could have moved my arms to grab my phone and take a picture, I would have. Instead, I laughed, smashed up against a door you should not lean on, let alone press all of your weight against, held my breath, and ignored the bodies pressing up against me in an all too familiar way.

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