Thursday, September 30, 2010

Getting off on the MTR

I've written before about the mystical gweilo power and the abilities it confers on otherwise unremarkable Europeans. One place gweilo power isn't so great is navigating the MTR. Rather than the hordes of locals recognising the White Man's Burden (in this case, an overfull rucksack) and parting like the Red Sea before Moses, the crowds shuffle and give no quarter.

It's nice that people mind their own business, but it can also be aggravating. Say, hypothetically, you were pregnant or carrying especially cumbersome children. It might be nice for somebody to give up their seat or make a little space, rather than just studiously avoid eye contact. Or maybe just move a bit further into the carriage, rather than all congregate right at the doorway and thus make it impossible for more people to board. Or get off - whichever is more inconvenient.

Just being white confers no advantage here. You can't waltz through the MTR turnstiles without paying, and nor will people move aside from you, or give any space in the mornings as everyone does that peculiarly chicken-like sprint from train to escalator.

So you have to up your game.

The as yet unbeatable technique for ease of boarding and disembarkation that I've developed goes as follows.

Talk in a nasal, slightly too loud, ever so slightly too posh English accent. The kind that sets your own teeth on edge as you use it. Then just yell out phrases like "excuse me", "pardon", "sorry" and "what what". Yes, just like a cartoon Englishman from the Fifties.

And immediately, people shift. You can shove your way off crowded trains without so much as a protesting whimper. You can shove your way on to crowded trains in rush hour, and people will retreat in the face of your mystical forcefield. The power of which probably stems from your refusal/inability to speak Cantonese, which means anyone who wanted to complain would have to speak English back to you. And who wants to do that?

(Yes, I suppose there is a need to experimentally test this, with one person mm saing and the other in full Bertie Wooster mode, but I lack the financial wherewithal. Any potential sponsors, please get in contact.)


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