Strange Adventure on the Train to Hangzhou

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.




Filed under Personal

5 responses to “Strange Adventure on the Train to Hangzhou

  1. The Swiss couple were in a foreign country. The Hong Kong guy less so. Surely it would have been courteous to allow the Swiss couple to remain where they are seated?

    Would it not be wiser to consider yourself an ambassador for your nation and be friendly towards those who are away from their homes?

  2. oneeyedpanda

    Thanks for the comment Farouq. I see your point, but frankly in China there is a lot of Chinese people acting as “ambassadors for their nation” and getting treated rudely by foreigners. So they aren’t always open to giving way to foreigners in situations like this.


  3. This is something that is becoming more and more common. I think that among some of the foreigners in China there is a feeling that the “locals” should yield to us.. and after having enough of foreigners acting a fool, they are pushing back.

    It isn’t nationalistic (even if a crowd gathers), it is just being tired of yielding to foreigners because foreigners are somehow worth more or are special.

    This situation, and others like it, is not just a Chinese on foreigner thing. I have seen more than my share of fistfights between Chinese over things as simple as a place in line…


  4. oneeyedpanda

    Dear R.

    That is a real valid point and one I think all of us should watch out for — especially those of us living here in China as we are more likely to encounter this even if we make an effort to speak in Chinese.


  5. Great post, and a great lesson for us laowai to learn from. I lost sympathy for the Swiss couple as soon as the chick started crying. I mean, it’s a seat on a train – there are certainly bigger things in this world to cry about.

    It’s a tough situation though for travellers in China, as China – in comparison to other non-English speaking countries – is notoriously bad for being a rather obtuse system.

    Generally speaking if you buy a two tickets at the same time, you should get two seats together. In China, not necessarily, or even likely really. They’re lucky they got seats at all.

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