Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Day After Tomorrow

A rare snowstorm has hit Southern China and paralyzed the train system, leaving millions of passengers going home for Chinese New year stranded. Air travel has been affected less. Still, it took us three trips to the airport and two days' waiting before we got our boarding pass.

The airport is a mess--people sleeping on the floor, crowds pushing and shouting "We want to go home!", armed police in green uniform standing expressionlessly, and hoards after hoards of special police commando units in black uniform arriving at the scene to keep order. The communication system has totally broken down. No one knew which flight is coming and when. Passengers have to search counter by counter to find the agents issuing boarding passes for a particular flight. Agents refuse to admit if any flight has been cancelled depsite being shouted at. Last night, the jam-packed KFC ran out of food at midnight, and some say that there were 20-30k passengers stranded at the airport. Many commented that real life has finally caught up with Hollywood's imagination in the blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow.

Surprisingly, the chaos has conducted itself rather orderly. People pushed and shouted in unision only in short bursts. A few were arrested for disorderly behavior. A rather timid-looking armed police guard said: "Can't blame them. They've been waiting for a flight for over 30 hours now."

Perhaps a harmononious society is possible after all.


megantheory said...

I was wondering how you were faring through all of this. How much does Hu Jintao's apology mean to Chinese people? Also, I find it amazing that so few (reported) deaths hav occurred - US' midwest suffered a fleet of tornados that killed 40 in a day recently. Equally astounding to us impatient Americans has been the Chinese's people's failure to act out on their frustration. Do you see this as a result of their calm nature, or as an inability to take action? Either way, it doesn't seem like anyone blames the govt -not only for the weather, which is obviously beyond their control, but for their lack of effective action to ease suffering.

Beijing Loafer said...

As many China observers have commented, Chinese are patient, tolerant, stoical, or submissive (depending on the commentator's aesthetic preference). And it's easy for Chinese to be that way in face of natural disasters, for Chinese history is full of floods, droughts and earthquakes.

In time of disasters, emperors always claim to care for its subjects, and the subjects wait in patience. When they don't want to wait anymore, they revolt, and the dynasties change.

So I don't think there's such thing as a "calm (Chinese) nature". Maybe Chinese are not like the French who revolt for a living, but we do. Perhaps we are more like the English bourgeois who, to the great dismay of Marx, cared more for their gardens than revolutions. But when pushed to the wall, there'd be reaction, even if it'd take a looong hard push.

Still, I find your "astounding" astounding. The impatient Americans didn't act out on their frustrations on the aftermath of Katrina either...