I ride the Shanghai Metro regularly to get where I need to go around Shanghai. The buses are often too much hassle to figure out the correct route for the extra kuai or two it might save. With taxis, it’s definitely pricier and, while more comfortably, often they’re no faster than the subway for any trips not decidedly close to where you are.
Over the years, the Shanghai Metro has exploded with new lines canvassing much of downtown Shanghai, a trend that will continue for some time until we’re all living not on solid earth but on subway tunnels. Things have, believe it or not, also improved with regards to, er, civility of the metro-riding populace and experience. The old bemused to annoyed observation that the Chinese mob on and mob off the subways is still true but, again, things have gotten better.
For example, these days you will occasionally encounter a platform of people of a certain strata that will actually wait beside the opening subway doors to let the passengers out before they board. It is still rare, sure, but it happens. Frankly, I think the main reason behind the impatience to get on by those waiting has much to do with the brief duration the subway doors are open. With so many people sometimes riding the subways during peak hours, you have a lot of people disembarking the train car each time. In such circumstances, by the time they’re all out, the doors are already beeping and closing, threatening to lock you out and forcing you to wait until the next train for another shot. For many would-be riders, this presents a conundrum: “Do I let the people out first or do I try to get on as quickly as I can to make sure I actually do get on before the door closes?”
Another example of things getting better are the new lines splitting the escalators into a standing lane on the right and a passing lane on the left, not unlike Hong Kong. Those who aren’t keen to climb can stand while leaving room for the inevitable subset of riders who have the spring in their step to get where they want to go faster by climbing pass them. This compromise for the impatient does wonders in easing congestion as people exit (or enter) the station’s waiting platforms.
Alas, of course, these new measures and improvements are inconsistently realized because they are inconsistently obeyed by the varied masses of Shanghai. Those who get it, get it, but there are still so many who simply don’t and may never get it because they’re obtuse or simply inconsiderate. They’ll continue to stand right smack in the middle of the opening subway doors to block all the people inside trying to get out. They’ll get on the left lane of the escalator and stand happily chatting with their friend, seemingly oblivious to the fact that everyone ahead of them had properly climbed up and that everyone they’re holding up behind them is glaring at them in silent contempt. Bastards and bitches like them exist everywhere, banes of human progress.
But I sure do appreciate the Shanghai Metro nonetheless. It is definitely convenient, enough for me to not want a car in dense Shanghai, despite being a hardcore petrol-head. Even with all the persistent nuisances, again, things are getting better…and I’m as encouraged by them as anyone who has seen better, more civil, more efficient behavior from subway systems of equally populous cities elsewhere.
Here, finally, is where I want to get to what I had wanted to share this entire time: my altercation with a gate-jumper yesterday exiting the Jin An Temple metro station.
If you’re unfamiliar, gate-jumpers are those daring individuals who decide they’re not actually going to pay for a subway ticket to ride the subway. Instead, they’re going to try sneaking in and out, hoping that no one will notice or that no one will bother stopping them. They’ll hop over or duck under the turnstiles guarding the entrances and exits of the metro station, once going in and another time coming back out. If they succeed, they’ll save anywhere from 3-6 RMB or so depending on how far their destination stop is. Unsurprisingly, you’ll get a lot of poorer folks doing this. While you’ll wonder if it’s really worth the few RMB they’d save, you also can’t help but wonder just how poor they must be for them to do such a thing for those few RMB. Of course, you’ll also have the cheapskates as well, who will simply try to do whatever they can get away with. Ride the Metro long enough and you’ll bear witness to these gate-jumpers every so often, and there’s generally little you can do other than shake your head in disdain from afar.
So, yesterday around 5:30pm, I ran into a gate-jumper face-to-face. I had reached the exit turnstiles and just swiped my stored-value transportation card to exit. The little light flashed indicating that my fare was docked and the gate unlocked for me to pass through. At this precise moment, a man suddenly appeared in front of me and tried to hop over, disregarding the fact that I was actually in his way. His foot caught one of the turnstile arms and he failed to get over, but succeeded in turning the unlocked turnstile thereby locking it again, with me still behind it, not yet exited.
Initially, I was a little taken aback by what had just happened, wondering why there was suddenly a guy trying to get in while I was trying to get out. I mean, this is an exit, right? Can’t you let me out first before trying to come in? Of course, a split second later I knew the guy’s intentions but was still perplexed with his audacity of not just trying to cheat the system but also trying to do so against the flow of traffic. I stared at him, my eyes asking him the question, “are you stupid?” while part of me wondered for a moment how I’m supposed to get out now that he used up my turnstile turn. Much to my astonishment…
…the guy actually tries to jump over again! And again right in front of me, in my exit lane, which meant he’d then have to push his way through me into the station. Without thinking, I immediately pushed him back, with two hands, full-force, preventing him from crossing over, and sending him back down onto the ground. Traffic slowed to a crawl around me as other exiting riders took in the situation, perhaps a little surprised by my decidedly physical reaction, likely curious to see what would happen next. I stood my ground, calmly glaring my “what the fuck do you think you’re doing?” question at the guy, surprised and slightly unsure how to react to my shoving him back and down. He was about as wide as me, but a bit shorter, and given the lack of moral support he could possibly muster given the circumstances, he quickly dashed to another turnstile, hopped over, and ran away into the station ignoring the bystander admonishing him for not buying a ticket and the station attendant that helplessly yelled at him to stop while muttering a few obscenities in response to all of us.
Slightly perturbed and now a few minutes late, I walked over to the attendant booth to get another ticket that would let me through the exit turnstiles and continue on my way.