Archive for October, 2008

Mama Said Knock You Out

Monday, October 13th, 2008

I’m told Spartans were pretty rugged folk.

Mongols weren’t exactly wimps either.  You don’t amass the largest continuous-land-mass empire in human history by smoking peace pipes.

I briefly considered this today as a taxi driver was being punched and kicked by three people at the airport on my way to Shenzhen.  Hongqiao airport is one of the two airports serving downtown Shanghai.  There were more cops there today than usual directing traffic.  I figure it’s because it was a Monday morning, with lots of commuter traffic.  They kept things moving along as well as could be expected.

It occurred to me that the safety barrier normally erected between a taxi driver and his passengers — presumably for the driver’s safety –could in limited circumstances become a liability.  Sure, barriers keep bad elements out.  But they also lock you in.  And therein lies the problem.  Three people pull open your door, start shouting, and swiftly decide to supplement their point of view with fists and boots.  The cops might be too busy to help you.  Or they might frankly not see it as their job to intervene.  There’s a lot of traffic that needs directing.  Or perhaps they subscribe to one observer’s comment that you probably deserved the “lesson” you were getting.  If this was Taxi University, class was definitely in session.

I haven’t decided whether the passenger — who not only fled when class began in earnest, but also got back into the taxi once class was dismissed — was wise, cowardly, foolish, or just incredibly efficient.  After all, you don’t pay a new fare when you continue with a taxi after stopping.

It’s hard for me to imagine those first few sentences when getting back into the freshly-educated driver’s taxi, but perhaps that’s why my future’s not in fiction.  I’d guess it’d be a meek congratulations on the continuing education credits, then off to Concourse B.  The guilt would tempt me to tip a bit more.  Then again, you made me late.

I didn’t get out to help, though class was in session a mere two meters from me.  You can decide whether I was wise, cowardly, foolish, or just incredibly efficient.  My flight was leaving in an hour.  I was not yet at the gate.  Traffic was made worse because people were conducting class in the middle of the airport entrance.  This was definitely not adding up to leaving for Shenzhen on time.

I’m told a woman was once beat to death on a crowded bridge stopped with traffic during rush hour in New York City.  If memory serves correctly, class went into overtime during that session, lasting much longer than usual.  No one helped.  Perhaps everyone was acutely aware that they had not registered for the course, and so would not want to intrude on what was rightfully someone else’s education.  No one even called the police.  I’m not sure if anyone called nearby friends.

It’s commonplace to encounter belligerent shouting in Shanghai.  You might be at a supermarket.  You might be at a bus stop.  You might be in a five-star hotel lobby.  The location doesn’t seem to matter much.  Escalation is lightning quick.  WHAT!?  My coffee is late?!  What sort of two-bit joint is this?!  You moron!  I’m convinced I derive less titillating pleasure than many folks from these encounters because I don’t enjoy Jerry Springer.  I could probably lighten up a bit about the visceral aspects of human nature.  If it’s good enough for Ultimate Fighting Championship, it should be good enough for me.  Call me high-brow.

Being a suburbanite, it’s hard for me to know whether this tendency towards shouting and mano-a-mano combat is simply an urban phenomenon or one that’s especially acute in the Chinese culture.  I’ve not lived in the heart of any major American city, though I can easily be convinced that LA or New York might be like this.

What I mostly think about when I bring the kids out — to, say, the park or the shopping mall — is what they’ll learn from all the shouting and fighting.  And, in a rare moment of honesty, what they think about my efficiency.