Day 5: Part 1, The Worst Subway Experience of My Entire Life

Unlike the day before, day 5 was crazy! I planned to leave Chengdu in the morning to head about an hour away by train to Leshan, which is famous as the home of the world’s biggest stone Buddha. Seeing the Leshan Buddha had been a goal of mine for some time now, and with the thought of it finally happening, I had a spring in my step when I left the hostel at 7:45 am to make my way to the Chengdu railway station. As Chengdu is a much smaller city than Beijing or Shanghai, I didn’t think rush hour would be that bad, so I opted to take the subway. 

I was crazy wrong! Riding the Chengdu subway at 8 am was 100% the worst subway experience of my entire life. I grew up in the city and rode the train to school every day, so I’ve seen it all: fights, sexual assault, over intoxication, mental breakdowns…literally everything. But trust me when I say I’ve never seen a rush hour so bad. 

The train was packed to the point that no one could move, with other people’s entire body weight weighing heavily on you. At every single subway stop, passengers were screaming because people on the platform were running and trying to push their way into train cars that were already way over capacity. Finally when it came to my stop…no one budged. I pushed so hard but could not make any progress before the train doors closed. I was frustrated but planned to just get off at the next stop. However, after I had worked so hard to make my way to one side of the train, at the next stop the doors were opening on THE OTHER SIDE. Now I tried to push my way to the other side, but right when I was one arms length away from exiting the train, the doors slammed closed again. I felt trapped. Finally at the next stop, now 2 stations away from where I needed to get off, I was able to get off the train. At this point I called a Didi (China’s version of Uber) to take me for what was supposed to be a 10 minute drive back to where I needed to be. This was the only way I could catch my train in time. But of course, Chengdu’s rush hour traffic was so bad that by the time I was able to get to the railway station, my train had already left 20 minutes before. 

Momentarily, I was extremely frustrated about missing my train. I felt angry that I had planned out more than enough time to get there but because of Chengdu’s subway system, I was inconvenienced. Not to say that it’s worse or better, but China’s subway etiquette is just different. China’s subway etiquette is that there is no etiquette. You can push people out of the way to get where you need to be. You can cut people in line. You don’t have to wait for people to exit the train before you start to board. Basically do whatever you need to do to get where you need to go. It has been one of the most frustrating cultural/societal differences I’ve had to come to terms with while living here, until I realized that the only way to live here is to play by these rules. 

After a couple minutes, I realized it was pointless to be frustrated about something in the past that I didn’t have control over. What I did have control over was going to the ticket counter and praying that I could exchange my ticket and still get to Leshan at a reasonable time. 

Five minutes later, I had a whole new mindset. My ticket was exchanged with ease, and in my hand I had a new ticket for the next train leaving in half an hour. My journey would only be set back by an hour! I was extremely happy with the way things worked out and excited about the next leg of my journey. 

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