Understanding China, One Blog at a Time

An American in China

Scrumming to work

Posted by w_thames_the_d on December 4, 2009


Just took that 22 minute ride to work on the subway with thousands of my newest friends, it got me thinking… Did you know that American football games are 60 minutes long, but in reality there is only 6 minutes of bone crunching violence- the rest is basically set up and planning. Riding a subway in Beijing is like American football.

Beijing has about 8 subway lines but there are two main arteries, they are lines 1 and 2. Line 2 is basically a square around the heart of the city, and line 1 bisects it a little below the center. All of the other lines are offshoots of these two major ones. I take line 1 all the way to work, it is when line 1 and 2 meet that chaos ensues, thus the football analogy.

I travel 11 subway stops, most of which are peaceful, the problem is the dreaded 3rd stop, Jiangwomen. This is a main crossing point for lines 1 and 2 and when the doors open, the ensuing activity approximates your average scrum in rugby. See, the actual prep work starts about one stop before, where the huddled masses begin to elbow push and wiggle their way towards the doors, waiting to be liberated at this juncture and go about their ways. This would be like two football teams approaching the line of scrimmage- all of the players look at one another, check alignment, call out signs…
Then, we slowly approach, this is like the quarterback and linebackers calling an audible. Last minute adjustments are made, people change their minds, look for a better spot…
The doors open, this is what I would like to term “looking into the mouth of the beast”. It is at this moment that all of the strengths and weaknesses of mankind are exposed. It is like that scene in Night, by Elie Weisel, where the guards throw bread scraps to the starving Jews who fight, father against son, brother against sister, for the little morsel. That is what happens when the doors open- the rush of humanity is impressive. Basically those leaving have the right of way, but those who wish to enter, resemble the bulls of Pamplona before they open the gates, their nostrils flare and they are wide-eyed.

This is the actual play in football. In football there are 22 men who potentially can bang into each other, curse, shove and throw each other about. That is what happens at this stage. Those entering wait for the passengers to leave, and typically they do, as quickly as possible, and then comes the flood of humanity. The new entrants lower there shoulders and literally push the young the old, the women and men, and vie for a precious spot. I will video this event as it is captivating.

Funny thing is that just like American football, although the violence when it transpires, is intense, there is an emotional down time just after. Thus, between stops there is an eerie calm, just like a football huddle as we all prepare for the next onslaught.

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