Papering over cracks

August 3, 2015

Hanzi P

Travelling in China can be hard, there are people everywhere!

In general everyone travels around the country fairly frequently but even if 500 out of 1.4 billion people decide to travel to the same city as you at the same time, the train will be full and you won’t get on it.

The emerging middle class in China plays a big role at tourist destinations now as well. Even 5 years ago I remember there being a lot less people at these places. The amount of people at the Yellow Mountain (Huangshan) was crazy! There’ll be a guaranteed four person deep queue for attractions at most popular destinations, like the Forbidden City for example.

The number one difficulty though is the crowd mentality, when you live in a country with so many people I imagine you lose the sense of personal space being an issue. Chinese people will push into you when they’re walking in the street without batting an eyelid, they’ll push past you when you’re stood watching something like a water show, as if they’re going somewhere but then they’ll stop in your position. If you decide to say something they’ll look at you blankly like the words are going into their ears but aren’t firing any neurones in their brains.

Even an at the top of a mountain they’ll push you from behind towards the edge of the cliff to get a better view for themselves and won’t think that they’re doing anything wrong.

I read a book that summed this crowd mentality up quite nicely and it goes like this:

“The children, when they were little, teaching them to say sorry when they’d hit one another or broken something. And it was just a word to them. A way of papering over the cracks.”

People push into you in China in a crowd situation and reflexively they’ll say sorry but there’ll be nothing in their eyes or their voice or their body language to say that they’ve meant it. It’s simply part of the process.

I found myself most often wanting to ask ‘do you mind?’ In the sense that do you know that you’re encroaching on me, or you just pushed me out the way just so you can get to the front of the line 20 seconds faster.

And they really don’t mind. To their minds they’re just papering over cracks.