From Shuangjing to Mudanyuan


I’m standing outside the metro station, in a queue of fifty or sixty people, waiting for the metal grate to scrape open, admitting the next group of us.

I live in Shuangjing (双井) which is in the South East of Beijing (北京市) and work in Mudanyuan (牡丹园) in the North West.

Each morning I follow the same routine: Join the queue, wait and then scramble towards the train doors. Usually it takes two or three trains before I can get on.

While I wait at the station doors I watch the train come in, my early-morning mind compiling a list of things I need to get done that day.

The train doors line up with the station’s and both open together. No one exits the train. I’m looking at a solid wall of flesh and cloth. Someone behind me scrambles forward and presses themselves into the wall, bumping and jostling so the doors might just be able to close. I watch as the person’s identity vanishes in front of me, as they are moulded and absorbed into the wall.

It’s just past eight, I’m not in such a hurry. I’ll wait. The train pulls away.

A few trains later it’s coming up to eight twenty and I can’t wait any longer.

The doors open, the wall stands strong and I tentatively take a step towards it. As if they’ve been waiting for my first step the queue behind me makes its move too. I am pressed from behind into the wall and I can’t concentrate any more. The world blurs into a kind of fleshy brown and I’m knocked and squeezed on all sides. I imagine it’s like the opposite of being born. Soon I come to a stop, one foot on the floor, my body off balance. The doors shut and we move on.

I can’t move, and I have a problem. The next stop is Guomao (国贸), a major transfer station. I am pinned somewhere between the door and the middle of the train entrance. Around me people are pushing and sliding past one another. I feel hands, and stomachs and backs press against me. My nose and mouth are pressed into a woman’s hair, I feel someone much taller than I looming behind me.

We arrive at Guomao and the door opens. I’m lucky. I’ve managed to grab hold of a metal bar in the centre of the entrance. People flood out past me, like liquid fleeing an overturned bottle. I’m caught in the flow and hold on for dear life. Shoulders and arms bang into me as people barge past as if I am an obstacle that can only be overcome by force. My feet are snatched off the ground and I feel like I’m being pulled from a starship’s airlock.

The flow abates and I find my feet. New passengers embark. But I’m okay now, able to push myself into the aisle where I’ll be a safe distance from the doors.

Here I settle in for the rest of the journey, about forty minutes or so.

I feel pressure all around me. Smell the scent of sweat and perfume and breath. I find my mind wandering and I can’t seem to focus on what I’m doing there and even who I am seems hazy and unsure. I feel a rhythmic pulsing in my mind and all thought seems to fall away. We are breathing together, creating great fleshy waves that press against the sides of the train. My body dissolves and I am soaked into the whole. We are a single organism, pulsating and rippling together. Falling, swirling and morphing. Settling into the long tube-like shape of the carriage. A great, stinking worm with a thousand mouths, all groaning and grunting and leaking hot, coffee and cigarette scented breath into the recycled air.

We are blood, clogged and clotted in one of the city’s grubby arteries.

Each time the doors open some of the lumpy, sick blood spills out into other parts of the body.

Slowly, as my station approaches the carriage thins out and I’m able to move independently again. When I disembark the train I feel, at first, a kind of loss. Like I’ve just let go of something. I feel slightly dazed, unaware of where I am and what I’m doing. But soon, sense and thought come back to me and I remember.

I am Jack Owen. I’m on my way to work. I live in the city but I am not a part of it. I am a single entity again, with my own life and experience.

I let go of a breath I’ve been holding for god-knows-how-long. Relief floods over me as I exit the station into air that I can’t call fresh, but is at least more spread out than that of the train.

The experience is vanishing from my mind and will soon be all but forgotten. In those last fleeting moments of consciousness I thank life itself that I’m off that train but dread, albeit with an odd sense of longing, tomorrow’s journey, when the cycle will repeat itself.


5 responses »

  1. Why no one is making any comments about this??
    That image is so scary!! It looks like they’re so lonely, even among so many people! It’s like a “jungle”!
    My question is: are you regretful of your decision or not?

    • This picture is from my station Mudanyuan, but it’s not a typical day. There was some train fault this day so it’s an abnormal amount of people. Although there are some stations that get like this every day!
      Honestly, I think most metros in every city can get like this during rush hour, so it’s not just here!
      I try to make a point of never to regret anything! I have had some good, strange and bad experiences here which all add to my life story!

  2. This is almost Rabelaisian in its revolting glee – at once emetic and cathartic, it fits the city and its endlessly-columned ‘grubby arteries’ better than the city’s populace fit their frighteningly regular trains. As somebody who cannot tolerate even London’s underground without flopping about like Wanda, the nascent morbid curiosity beginning to well in my chest has been allayed. Now I shall never have to experience this for myself.

  3. Thank you for writing this down and really made me thinking. (HERE IS MINGYAO!) I have been in my hometown for a month, actually, I am kind of missing this rather than a cheerful but nearly dead city like here(Am I insane?). Each shop is closing, opening, closing, since the economy here is getting worse. Sometimes I asked myself, if you have the chance to choose again, what would you do? My answer is I have no choice. Although these hasty mornings made me feel complicated, I really have no choice. As long as I want to meet more people, as long as I am eager to chase for dream (sounds cliche, haha), a bit or big suffering is just there. And I don’t know what else is waiting for me in the future! scared and excited…

    • THERE IS MINGYAO! Thanks for commenting! I understand fully. I will look back on my time here with a mix of horror and affection! I think there is no wrong choice and both of us made good choices of our own. However, there are also no easy choices and we’ll always look back and wonder ‘what if?’
      The future scares me too!

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