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China Week: Lessons in Line Breaking (A Story)

Below is a short story that was posted to our travel blog from Shanghai.  Almost any visitor to China is likely to experience a higher-than-expected level of competiion while standing in line for something like a subway ticket. In the case below, I had made up my mind to be a competitor.  Unfortunately things didn't work out as planned.

From the post: Lessons in Line Breaking

 

I had made a decision and I was going to act on it.  Gone were the days of standing passively in line while Chinese people wedge themselves in front of me and place an order before I could react.  I was going stand up for myself and try to be a little more Chinese.

This is not the kind of thing you can plan – it just has to happen and just last night, I had my chance.  We were in the Shanghai subway terminal in line for our first subway card at a vending machine, as we’ve done so many times before in other cities.  Just as the couple in front of me at the machine received their card and turned away, a young Chinese guy stepped directly in front of me.  So, with great determination, I stepped in front of him enough to place my right shoulder at about his eye level and in a single motion stepped directly in front of the vending machine.   It was mine!  HAHA!  I’ll show you line breaker!  I’m no push-over tourist softy!

So there I was, with this foreign and unfamiliar machine staring me in the face.  It was mine, yes, but I realized all too quickly that I had no idea how to use it.  The instructions were in English and the #1 read “Select Fare???.  Scratching my head with waves of embarrassment pending, I searched the machine for anything that said “Fare???.  Nothing.  I inquisitively pressed a couple of random buttons in the hopes that something would happen. Nothing.  My pride was on the line here and I was blowing it!  Thoughts of fleeing in shame entered my mind when I heard a voice over my shoulder, “Where do you need to go????  It was the line breaker politely asking a simple question that I couldn’t answer completely.  All we knew was that we needed to go two stops on Line 2.  He ended up doing the whole transaction for me and after many “thank yous??? I left with our subway cards in hand and my pride more than a little crushed.

The moral here is that if you’re going to try to act like a local, be prepared for the entire event.  Going off half-cocked is a good way to shoot yourself in the foot.