Public transportation is one of the most fascinating aspects of living abroad in Beijing. Since I live off campus, I take the bus to and from school, while on the weekends I often take the subway or a taxi to other parts of the city, and I have taken the bullet train from Beijing to Shanghai. All of these modes of transportation not only make getting around China cheap and convenient, but also offer interesting experiences and insights into day to day Chinese culture.
Nowhere is China’s massive population more apparent than in the public busses and subways. One morning on the way to school, I and one of my roommates ended up in an extremely crowded bus. When I say crowded I mean people’s faces pressed to the windows, somebody’s elbow an inch from my nose, and the door squeezing the last five or six people in like canned sardines. If it wasn’t for the ticket lady who sits behind a little podium next to the door where people get on the bus, and makes sure that the people traffic coming in and out of the bus runs smoothly, there might be a little more shoving and grumbling. While directing people to every nook and cranny of space left on the bus, she still found the best spot of space for the little old lady, who was the last to get on, to stand. As far as I can see, Chinese people have accepted this as a normal part of daily life in the city. So much so that waiting in lines and shoving your way to the front of a crowd is the norm here. Even at times and places where there are no crowds, people will always be looking to get ahead, because in the country with the world’s largest population, you may be waiting in line for a very long time.
While the bullet train has turnstiles, as well as people to direct the people traffic, getting on the bullet train to Shanghai is vastly more coveted than getting on a certain bus number that will surely come again in fifteen minutes, and this fact shows people’s anxiousness and anticipation to get on the train. The tickets are expensive and not easy to reserve as they are quickly snatched up. That is why while passing through the turnstiles and showing the guard my ticket and passport, a few Chinese people attempted to jump the turnstiles and barrel their way through the guards down the stairs and on to the waiting train. A few made it while others were held up by the guards. This was a little frightening to watch first hand as one of the guards managed to trip one of the guys without a ticket, who then ran full tilt into a glass window. I am not sure how normal this is as I have only ridden the bullet train to and from Shanghai, but it is always important to be aware of your surroundings at all times, no matter how accustomed to crowds you may get.