Beijing Subway – Contagion of Courtesy

Courtesy – An Infection

 

               Beijing subway travel during rush hour is a numbing experience.  Within two weeks of morning rush hour travel I too have become personally desensitized to the discomforts of the train.  It is a torture you endure until you are released onto your destination.  I sense from the running of many on the street that the discomforts of the train are only the beginning of the daily grind and that the race to work may indicate indignant bosses carefully watching the clock.

               My habit at my starting point Shilihe Station is to get on the line at the bottom of the stairs.  At this door is a very nice guard trying to keep order as the masses push and pull when the train doors open.  Keeping people from pushing forward and blocking the doors so people can exit the train is his challenge.      

               There is no courtesy for those exiting the train.  The crowd of people waiting to get on is a formidable force.  As a group they are focused and their energy is combined and they will push each other to pack the train.  The individuals exiting are not as unified.  The first group, prepared to exit are organized and their group energy can overcome the energy of the entering group, but the stragglers trying to exit as individuals are often overwhelmed by the onslaught and swept backwards into the train car, even further back than before.  You can hear their cries of helplessness and despair.  The crowd is unmoved by their problem, they are determined to get on, no matter what the cost to others.

               One morning, with the usual scrum standing in front of the door I noticed a woman carrying her child, probably two years old, standing with others in the middle of the lines.  I asked the woman in the front of the line whether this woman with the child could get in the front of the line with her.  Women, the kindest of our species, understood the woman’s predicament and agreed.  She moved to the front of the line holding her child. 

               For the next moment our door was organized.  People were standing in two lines on each side of the door, not crowding the center, allowing people to exit.  Did the act of courtesy remind them of their humanity?  Did, for that moment, they remember what their parents taught.

               I hope, for one moment they stopped and thought.  I hope they pass it on.

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