Why You Will Never Be Able to Endure a Chinese-Style Lockdown – Sean Bronson

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.