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March Forward!


Hangzhou Train Station, May 19, 2013

Having experienced a horrible train ride from Guangzhou to Guangxi before, I vow to stay away from train rides in China as much as I possibly could. But when the best mode of transport from Hangzhou to Shanghai is bullet train which costs you 128 yuan first class in comparison to a hired car for 2.800 yuan, it sounds like a phobia that you just have to fix in this lifetime. OK here we go again. Phi is moving forward to Hangzhou train station.

There are always millions of people at any train stations I’ve ever been to in China, be it Guangzhou, Guangxi, Nanjing, Hangzhou or Shanghai. Well, in the land of 1.3 billion, a few million does not count. To get where you want to be, the only way is forward. You may step on a few people on the way, but cruelty is a widely practiced concept of any China survivor. And on I walk, wearing a cruel face, taking the determined steps, keeping hunter’s eyes on the prey – gate 8 towards Shanghai. People stand, sit, lie down, walk, run, carrying all sizes and shapes of bags in hundreds of colors. Some people talk, most shout and yell on their phones, to one another, and to whoever else they need to communicate with. Shouting is Chinese for communication. It does not necessarily depict any evil intention. It’s just the Chinese way of making sure they get their ideas across. But I have a train to catch and to get there, I force myself to practice see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil. In actual fact, I would keep my mouth shut so that no one knows I am a foreigner. That alone could save me from a lot of trouble.

Level 1 of the fighting game, I got through the security checkpoint and then the screening device without any problem.

Level 2, I found gate 8. There are 3 look-alike queues in front of the gate, so I stand in one of those. People are all over the place. What are they standing around for? OK, I need to stay focused. See no evil!

As I check my ticket for cabin and seat number, people start jumping the line. Out of nowhere, youngs and olds, males and females, good-lookings and messy-lookings, they all push in and I find myself getting down the line pretty quickly. Should I say something? Should I shout? Should I knock someone down? Lesson number 4: do no evil! “If what one has to say is not better than silence, then one should keep silent”‘ said Confucius once. It does at least keep me out of trouble today. The heat and the stink of human sweat fill the place. One could stir a war here just by stepping on somebody’s toe. It’s getting unbearable….

Level 3, this is the make it or break it. 2:45PM, 15 minutes before the train leaves the platform, the gate is opened. The sea of people turns into a tsunami. No queues does matter any more. On they march with the sole purpose of getting on that train. The train will wait for no one. If you miss it, you miss it. No one cares. No excuses. No explanation. No complaints to lodge. It strikes me once and again how priviledged I have been even in the little things I have taken for granted living in the West. All people have on this land is a dream for the future. The past is insignificant. The present is forgetable. There seems to be no other way out apart from marching forward, at all costs.

People push people forward and I am therefore pushed forward. You know it when you are there at the ticket control gate. All I see is people. The concept of personal space is something unheard of. And itdefinitely is a huge disadvantage when you are tiny. Keeping people from stepping on you undoubtedly is the noble task. It’s like meditation in a way. Your mind resides on one thing and one thing only, getting through that bloody gate! Phew! I finally get through.

Level 5 of the fighting game, now comes the long staircase. It has 3 levels and obviously there is no other way but walking down the steps with my 20kg piece of luggage and a hand-carry bag. No one cares. Everyone for themselves. Everyone has a train to catch. People rush down the steps, leaving me and my personal struggle to drag down the luggage un-noticed. Cabin 5 it is when I reach the train. Looking at the ticket, mine is cabin 16 which is at the very top of the train. Shouldn’t that be cabin 1? Any way, I have 5 minutes left to get on the train. Man, this is just like Amazing Race China. I finally get on, just in time as the train moves away from the platform. If someone needs to have a crash course on China, I would recommend the dramatic last 15 minutes before a train ride. Forget the thick books with lots of data analysis. It all happens out here amidst the heat, the stink and the sweat….

The train ride is quite smooth. Nothing much too see but some funny looking rows of identical town houses and apartment blocks that probably house millions of Chinese future time-travellers. The guy sitting next to me must wonder by the look on his face why I carry a smile on my face…. An hour goes by quickly. An announcement is broadcasted as we approach Shanghai. “Thank you for your understanding and support”. Sure, I understand!

Level 6, getting off the train. As the train pulls over, down pour waves of people. I step aside to wait. I am already in Shanghai and I have some time to kill on a Sunday. May people stay safe rushing down the staircase. Not long afterwards, the platform turns desserted. Jeez, the Chinese never waste a second in their life. I now have the whole platform for myself. I can now take my walking meditation steps down the escalator. No drama.

There are 2 taxi gates, one north and one south. The north gate is right there on my right as I get off the escalator. Knowing the Chinese who would take the best shortcut to heaven, I convince myself to take the South gate. It’s a bit of a walk but maybe I can stay away from the crowd. As I get out of the station and reach the taxi stand, I find myself stupid to even think there would be less people on the South side. There is never less people anywhere in China. I am right at the pick-up point and there is a long queue going for it. That’s OK. “Let’s find the end of the queue” I tell myself. And down I walk in search for that end, sporadically looking at the faces of the people who are already in the queue. What do I see? Worry, uncertainty, and lost. It’s a long way to the top!

I find the end of the queue when I almost lose hope. There must be 9999 people in the line. There are 2 long hand rails with a single person space in between to keep people in line but it does take a while for you to reach them. I figure that I’ve never been that thrilled in life standing in between the rails. For the first time in China, I can define my own space. It is definitely mine. Just when the thought becomes comforting, the lady behind pushes her bag forward and it hits me hard on the back. I turn my around and give her a Kungfu Panda look. As my eyes hit hers, she looks away, pretending nothing ever happens. See no evil!

I finally get on a taxi heading to a hotel in Pudong, feeling left behind in this China’s forward march every where I go. A smile is on my face as I remember some funny verses shared by a local friend.

The Young and Brave, march forward! The Young and Brave, march forward to the front! But Sir, the front line does not know where they are going… No drama, kid! Wherever we go, we are still marching forward!

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