排队:第五个现代化? / The Fifth Modernization?

排队:第五个现代化?

“千军万马过独木桥”
——中国俗语

阔别广州许久以后,我第一次回去,感觉一路倍受启发也非常愉快。之后,我准备返回香港。

我抵达广州火车东站(the Guangzhou East Train Station)的时候,天空阴云密布如铁板一块,冰冷的雨滴不断地拍打在身上。

乘火车回香港有点怀旧的意味,仿佛时光流转,又回到早年参加广交会(Canton Trade Fair)的原点。

在月台楼上的检票口排队的时候,我想起中国一句老话“千军万马过独木桥”。我都快忘了中国的火车站有多拥挤了,也许应该说秩序比在机场排队和保持队形还要混乱。

提倡“实现四化”(科技、国防、农业、工业现代化)那年月就有朋友建议说应该加上第五化——排队现代化。

人群如山间细流一般,慢慢汇聚,奔腾向东,流入大海。中途不断有纵横交错的支流涌入,最后迸发出无可阻挡的人潮人海。如果没有做好准备,很可能会被人流挤散、裹挟或者受伤。

所以,在一系列人肉冲浪之后,我终于奔向三号车厢,找到2号座位坐了下来。

我看见车窗外有一位身着铁路制服的男工作人员,东张西望了一下,然后斜倚着水泥柱点上了烟。他的头上正好挂着一块“禁止吸烟”的大牌子。

当今社会变幻莫测,能重温如此熟悉的场景——哪怕是令人不快的场景,也让人略感安慰。

一对20大几的华裔夫妇走了过来,在我过道对面的位子上坐了下来。两人用带着浓重澳大利亚口音的英语聊个不停。

他们俩个子都不高,同属“微胖界”。男的戴了顶黑色的棒球帽。从口音上判断就错不了,他们肯定是澳大利亚华侨,从对话上听,他们的母语是英语。

这时,从另外一边走来一位年纪相仿大陆男子,身穿黑色T恤,手里攥着绿色的车票。他好奇地打量着我对面的夫妇,看了看自己的票,又看了看椅子上方的座位号,然后用普通话问:

“你们的座位是3号和4号吗?”

戴棒球帽的小伙子用澳大利亚味儿很重的英语回答说:

“我听不懂。”

“T恤男”没听明白“棒球帽”的澳洲英语,用普通话再次问道:

“这是你们的座位吗?3号和4号?”

“棒球帽”也重复答道:

“我听不懂。”

“T恤男”还是没听懂对方的话,而且根本没意识到对方是在说英语。

他只好继续徒劳地“鸡同鸭讲”,用普通话变着法儿地问:

“我能看看你的票吗?”

“棒球帽”还是一口澳洲腔儿回答说:

“我听不懂。”

“T恤男”终于明白“棒球帽”不会说普通话,于是只好结结巴巴地用英语说:

“你!坐了我的座儿!”

这句话终于打破了僵局,让人如梦方醒。

“哦!”

“棒球帽”意识到自己坐错了位置,脸上立刻显得很不好意思,连忙道歉说:

“对不起啊!我们坐错了位子。”

他和太太抓起背包,挪到另一节车厢去了。(火车票上的车厢号和座位号都只有中文。)

身为华人却不会说中文,他们的窘境让我感到遗憾。

几分钟后,“T恤男”的三位同事上了车,坐在我过道对面和前面的位置。落座后,“T恤男”用普通话告诉他们:

“刚才有一对儿日本人坐了你们的座位。他们不会说中文,我把他们赶走了。”

这时候,火车开动了,朝香港方向驶去。长期在外终于可以踏上归途,让我倍感轻松。

但不会说中文的海外华人在中国竟这么不受欢迎,实在是让我太吃惊了。

The Fifth Modernization?

“Thousands of people are forcing themselves across a narrow footbridge”
— Old Chinese saying

After an enlightening and enjoyable return to Guangzhou for the first time in awhile, I was headed back to Hong Kong.

As I arrived at the Guangzhou East Train Station, the skies above were solidly committed to grayness, steadily pelting us with chilly raindrops.

Taking the train back to Hong Kong was partly a nostalgia thing, returning to the roots of my early Canton Trade Fair visits.

Queuing up at the gate upstairs from the train platform, I was reminded of the old Chinese saying ” Thousands of people are forcing themselves across a narrow footbridge.” I’d forgotten that the crowds in Chinese train stations are, shall we say, generally less orderly than the typical airport crowd when it comes to forming and remaining in lines.

Back in the era of The Four Modernizations (science and technology, national defense, agriculture and industry), one friend suggested a Fifth one: queuing

What begins like a narrow mountain stream gradually opens up into a wide seagoing estuary, criss-crossed by multiple tributaries, and then bursts into an out-of-control, surging flood tide. If you are unprepared for that surge, you risk becoming flotsam, jetsam, or wounded.

So, having body-surfed my way onto train carriage Number Three, I made my way to seat Number Two, and settled in.

Out the window of the car, I saw a uniformed male railway employee out on the station platform. He glanced east and then west before lighting up a cigarette, leaning on a concrete column, right beneath a large “No Smoking” sign.

In the current era of volatile and unpredictable change, there is small comfort in seeing the repetition of familiar scenes – even obnoxious ones.

A young, late 20s-ish Chinese couple walked in and sat opposite me, in the seats across the aisle. They were speaking to each other non-stop in heavily accented Australian English.

Both were short and a bit on the porky side. He was wearing a black baseball cap. The accent was unmistakable: they were overseas Chinese from Australia, and judging by their conversation, English was their dominant language.

From the other direction came a mainland Chinese man of similar age, wearing a black T-shirt, clutching his green ticket. He looked curiously at the couple opposite me, then back at his ticket, and then up at the seat numbers overhead. Finally, he asked them in Putonghua:

“Are your seat numbers Three and Four?”

The chap in the Baseball Cap responded in English, in a deep Aussie accent:

“I don’t understand.”

Mr. T-Shirt did not understand Mr. Baseball Cap’s Aussie-accented “I don’t understand”, so he repeated his question once again, in Putonghua:

“Are your seat numbers Three and Four?”.

Mr. Baseball Cap repeated the same response:

“I don’t understand.”

Not only did Mr. T-Shirt still not understand this statement, he did not recognize that Mr. Baseball Cap was speaking English.

Continuing in the vein of ‘chickens talking with ducks’, he tried a different question, still in Putonghua:

“May I see your tickets?”

Mr. Baseball Cap responded yet again, in Oz-flavored English:

“I don’t understand.”

Mr. T-Shirt finally realized Mr. Baseball Cap was not a Putonghua speaker, so his next step was an attempt in halting English:

“You! MY seat!”

This produced a breakthrough at last, a moment of enlightenment.

“Aha!”

On realizing his mistake, Mr. Baseball Cap displayed an instant look of embarrassment, and promptly apologized:

“Oh, I’m very sorry! We’re in the wrong seats.”

He and his partner grabbed their bag and moved to the next car. (The car and seat numbers on the train tickets are in Chinese characters only.)

I felt sorry for their awkward embarrassment at being, but not speaking, Chinese.

A few minutes later, Mr. T-Shirt was joined by three associates, who sat in front of and across from me. After they got settled, he announced to them, in Putonghua:

“There was a Japanese couple occupying your seats by mistake a few minutes ago. They didn’t speak Chinese. I chased them away.”

At that moment, the train began to roll down the tracks toward Hong Kong. I was relieved to be on the way home after a long trip.

It struck me that China is not a very welcoming place for ethnic Chinese from overseas who don’t speak the language.


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