Winnie and I took the train to Hangzhou on Saturday morning to visit friends. Shortly after we boarded a little dispute broke out across the aisle from us. There was a Swiss couple that was arguing with a guy from Hong Kong about who was supposed to be sitting there. The Hong Kong guy had a ticket for one of the seats that the Swiss couple was sitting in. His wife was with him so they wanted to sit together. The Swiss couple didn’t want to move because they were on holiday in China and didn’t speak Chinese. They said they were told to sit there so they sat there and therefore felt they didn’t have to move.
This provoked chorus of “why do foreigners always think they are superior’ from the Hong Kong man (this was in Chinese, he had been speaking to the Swiss couple in English). Soon other people in the train car joined in and a crowd formed. Eventually the train staff showed up. But they didn’t really solve the situation. The train conductor didn’t speak English and he just smiled at the Swiss couple giving them the impression that they were right while telling the Hong Kong guy in Chinese that he was right. Eventually the Swiss couple gave up and went and stood in the hallway between two cars. The woman was crying by this time and one guy kept reporting if she had stopped or not everytime he went to fill his tea jug.
I understand the desire to sit together but the Chinese guy was right. He had paid for the ticket and had every right to sit there. The Swiss couple should have moved. It’s unfortunate that they didn’t get seats together but Chinese trains have bilingual announcements so it’s hard to miss your stop and in this case it was an express train and only stopped at Hangzhou, they could only get off at the right stop. What annoyed me the most about this situation though is that the Swiss couple lived up to a negative stereotype of foreigners that some Chinese hold. If there is one thing I want to fix while living here it’s those stereotypes. And even though I had nothing to do with the situation I always feel that there is a set back for me in reaching that goal when something like this happens.
Oh well, I guess I just have to work harder.