Squished | 挤

By Yifu Dong BR ’17

Yifu Dong explains why China’s warrior-commuters always attempt to squeeze into packed buses and trains.


一个 “挤” 字足以概括高峰时段的北京公共交通。它不仅形容公交车和地铁里空间的狭窄,也总结了人们在其中辗转腾挪的生存之道。








I nudge a lump wrapped in winter coats forward with my forearms and elbows. Part of that lump mumbles some complaints. It is just another rush hour in Beijing, that special time of day when I never feel guilty about pushing others to create more room for myself.

The double doors start closing as the overhead lights flash and the cabin radio beep. The doors close on my backpack, and immediately fling open again. Before I could push further in, a helping hand reaches behind my back and lifts my backpack up onto my head.

After the doors close, rush hour’s physical miseries unfold. I am inevitably squished and have no choice but to breathe in what others breathe out. However, having any breathing room in a crowded bus or subway always makes me feel secure and accomplished, even with my heavy laptop and books sitting on my head. I often wonder what motivates me and the majority of Beijing commuters, who routinely squeeze into buses and subways when there is clearly no more room for them. One rational line of reasoning is that the next ride is very likely to be equally crowded, but still, it’s always likely that the next train will offer a bit more space. The real fear for people, I guess, is that the next bus or train will never come.

As a seasoned traveler on Beijing’s transportation system, I have seen some spectacular traffic jams and incredible numbers of human beings trying to coexist in a tight space.

This frenzy to get on the bus or train evokes the craving for opportunities. Across China, opportunities are scarce, be it getting a good education, finding a good job, getting married, buying an apartment, or simply enjoying a few rare breaths of fresh air. When I was toddler, my parents would always tell me whenever we stood in line: “Follow closer, follow closer!” If I didn’t follow closely enough, they would get upset. Like all adults in China, my parents tried to convey that the cost of missed opportunities is often enormous. I didn’t begin worrying about opportunities until I started school, when I gradually realized that scores and rankings had a direct connection with future opportunities in life. For instance, if you unfortunately fail to beat the cut-off score of your dream university, you will likely lose many opportunities associated with academic success. The same pressure holds at work and in society at large.
Perhaps due to this shortage of opportunities, Chinese people are not in the habit of getting in line. In recent years, however, in some cities like Beijing, people seem to have realized the potential cost of the chaos ensured without queuing, and the municipal government now employs thousands of aunties and uncles in Beijing to try to get people to line up in order at bus stops and subway platforms. While they are effective in getting people in line, people still are not used to the concept of the transportation system, whose “opportunity” comes every few minutes. Since people do not want to give up any opportunity right in front of them, what we often see is train after train, bus after bus, stuffed to their fullest.

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