Why You Will Never Be Able to Endure a Chinese-Style Lockdown – Sean Bronson
June 13, 2020
Shoulder to shoulder I stand with a young Chinese guy. Like many guys here in their early
twenties, his face is without expression as if there is no one else in the universe. But besides
him is a middle-aged man, squatting in the corner, eating mandarins off the floor. And right in
front of me is a girl staring at her phone as if it contains all the answers to life. Someone else
is next to her. However, like a distant person in a painting full of crowded people, I have no
visual memory of him. Outside the entrance of the rail car, I can see a man selling plastic
seats. They are portable seats you can sit on during the train ride. Mind you, these are not
comfortable, reclining beach chairs. They are four-legged, toy chairs suitable for a two-year
old boy. I am very uncomfortable like being in a bathroom stall full of strangers. This is just
another day for these people.
If I was an asshole, I could pin the blame on the female ticket attendant from earlier. She had
said something in English but because of the glass window between us, her words were
mixed up with the loud, hive-like mass murmur of the people all around me in the
station depot. I couldn’t really understand her, but I still took the ticket.
The light blue train card had Chinese characters and a few numbers printed on it. There
wasn’t anything that resembled a seat number like 6A, for example, which I had seen in
my previous high-speed train rides. So I photographed my ticket on my cellphone and sent it
to a co-worker to translate it for me. “What’s my seat number?” Sorry, there is no seating, she
said. That was weird, I thought. “How long is the ride?” Ten hours, she said. A ten-hour,
standing-only train ride.
After finally getting through the multi-leveled maze of the railway station with its extremely
misleading signs and arrows, I got to the platform. People were already stepping on to the
railway car. I showed the young attendant guy my ticket and asked him if it was really
standing-room only. He just laughed and waved me inside.
It was only about fifteen minutes, standing there with these four strangers.
There was no space to squat down because my big suitcase was in front of me. And there
was nothing to lean against because I was sandwiched between the young guy and the
entrance to the seating area. Most unfortunate of all was that there was no open space to
stare absent-mindedly into unless you wanted to lock eyes with another human being. It felt
like an hour. This was all because I had missed my high-speed train from Shanghai and
wanted to catch the only available train for that day. I decided to myself that this was not
worth the few hundred RMB I would be saving. I stepped out of the rail car, walked a few steps,
and gratefully squatted down on the pavement.