'Falling down' on public transit

By Rosanne Lin, Shanghai Star. 2002-04-18

Last week, while being jostled around on the subway, a cheesy Michael Douglas film called "Falling Down" suddenly popped into my mind.

In the movie, Douglas' character loses his grip on reality and starts running around Los Angeles seeking the common man's revenge - smashing his car through annoying roadblocks, blowing away petty criminals, running down jaywalkers, that kind of thing.

I was having an epiphany.

I carried this spirit with me all through the working day. When quitting time finally came, I headed for the "ditie." I was no longer a mild-mannered copy editor; I was "subway commando."

My first mission came while waiting in line - or what passes for a line in Shanghai - to buy my little plastic subway token. Just as my turn was coming, a woman who was obviously new to our mangled gathering burst in front of me attempting a preemptive strike on the electronic dispenser. I retaliated.

Lunging forward, I stuck my arm across her chest, determined to thwart the impending injustice. I looked deep into her eyes and asked: Ni you shema wenti? (What's your problem?) Her answer, you wonder? "Oh, sorry."

That's it! Oh, sorry. These public transport token line terrorists have been sending my bile duct into overdrive for almost four months and all this woman had to say was: "Oh, sorry."

But wait, it got worse.

Reaching Shanghai Railway Station, I shuffled from the train with the regular herd of passengers to the waiting turnstile. A migrant worker in front of me, apparently new to the game, was encountering technical difficulties, as he tried to make his way through the gate. He had put the little plastic "card-thingy" into the slot upside down.

As he was already trying to push his way through the turnstile, I decided to lend him a helping hand and started to fumble with his card, attempting to get it into the slot.

As visible as my attempts might have been, the man behind me figured foregoing the electronically predetermined process altogether was somehow a better approach.

He started wildly shoving me. Maybe the idea was to push me through the slot. I don't know.

I turned to him and asked: Ni you shema wenti? (What's your problem?) His answer: "Oh, sorry." Again, I couldn't believe it.

Here's a guy who had been harbouring some strange concept that he could somehow shove me, the migrant worker and a gigantic sack of I-don't-know-what through a solid metal barrier - a rather selfish reaction to an inconvenient snag in the line.

Japanese people have trampled each other to death under less aggressive circumstances. And all he had to say to explain his inane behaviour was "Oh, sorry."

I really feel for Douglas' character.


Copyright by Shanghai Star.