Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Peaking too soon

Amongst the things that perplex me about this country......

The subway on my commute to work was heaved out this morning.

Now, the subway on my route is not usually too bad even during the 8-8.30 peak. Before 8, when I'm setting off, it is usually pretty quiet.

Why should it be so especially busy this morning, the first day back at work after a long-weekend holiday? Are people especially anxious about getting to work on time after a holiday, worried that they already have a backlog of jobs to clear, or that their boss will be especially intolerant of any tardiness on this day? It is possible, I suppose. But it seems unlikely to me that so many people would be so worried about this that they'd set out for work a full 15 or 20 minutes earlier. Indeed, it really seemed to me as though the subway this morning was busier at 7.45 than I've ever seen it at 8.15. Something strange going on.

A few of my students conjectured that perhaps many of the passengers were people still on holiday, but that didn't convince me either. They didn't look like holidaymakers, they looked like stressed-out commuters. And I can't imagine why sightseers would be jumping on the subway in the rush-hour, before any of the major tourist sites are even open.

No, it's a bit of a mystery. But I do hope it was just a bizarre one-off. I've been rather enjoying my quiet, uncrowded commute in to work on Tuesdays.

Footnote: Everyone was supposed to be back at work today, but the streets around the National Library and the Minorities' University, usually thronged with street-food vendors touting greasy on-the-go breakfasts to passing students and office workers, were today deserted. I wonder if these snack peddlers were just taking a well-deserved extra day off, or if (more likely, I fear) they had been banished for a while to 'tidy up' the city during the brief holiday period. The extreme 'santization' of Beijing for the Olympics (not to 'improve' its appearance for foreign visitors, of whom there were scarcely any, but for domestic Chinese tourists visiting their capital perhaps for the first time) was one of the most regrettable features of living here through 2008. Many of the same measures are carried out on a smaller scale for every national holiday. And this year Shanghai is suffering the same perversity in the name of ensuring a 'harmonious' staging of the World Expo. Ah, China.

No comments: