The Most Popular Game in China

Rachel Palfini

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I’m about to let you all in on a little secret. It’s…how to play the most popular game in China! Now, there really is no name to this game, although I presume nicknames have popped up all over China. It is really easy to play, but you rarely win, and you don’t even need to have someone explain the rules to you. I guarantee (保证-learned that vocab word this morning) that if you spend a few days in Shanghai, you’ll pick up on the rules very soon.

The game involves a lot of people. Tens, sometimes even hundreds, of people; however, you don’t know the other players are and often, they don’t know you. Talking is not required, although it often occurs. Each round only takes a minute or two to complete. Depending on where you play the game, there can be 12 to 30 winners. The prize is extremely valuable, some would even say priceless.

Have you guessed it, yet? If not, it’s…. the “find-a-seat-on-public-transportation-before-EVEYRONE-ELSE” game!

Now, you may be skeptical and be thinking, “How is that a game??” or “That doesn’t sound like fun.” Oh, but how wrong you are!

Finding a seat on public transportation takes serious skill in China. I’ve been pushed before, forcefully, onto a subway car  by someone three of fours rows of people behind me to make sure we all fit. During rush hour, there is literally no room for you to fall over because everyone else would keep you upright. That’s how tight the cars are packed.

And, it’s not just the subway. Busses are also crazy, basically the entire day but it’s significantly worse during rush hour. On my first bus ride back to my host family’s apartment (11:30 pm at night), there were so many people that I couldn’t even pay until 10 minutes had passed because my back was against the entrance door and there was no room to move forward.

Having braved the beast that is public transportation for the past two and a half months, I have developed some tips for any future travelers to China.

Tip #1 (Subway only): When you enter the subway, don’t stand in the middle of the car. Go stand right next to the plastic barricade that is on the edge of the seating bench. Watch the person in that first seat (closest to you). As soon as they make a move to get up, make your move (i.e. go stand in front of them) to snag the seat.

Tip #2: Do NOT only hang onto the dangling hand-holders. They can rotate 360 degrees, so if there is a sudden jerk, it won’t keep you in place at all. That being said, if you want a cheap roller coaster experience, ONLY hold onto the hand-holders–it’s actually really fun!

Tip #3: MOVE FAST. Half a second can make all the difference.

Tip #4: Look into the eyes of the other passengers. As soon as you see movement (i.e. their eyes searching for a path to get off), that’s your signal. You will be called into action soon!

Tip #5: Once you’ve snagged a seat, pat yourself on the back. It is not an easy feat. Public transportation seats are one of China’s most coveted items. However, if you see an elderly person standing, kindly give up your seat. It’s common courtesy. Also, everyone in the car/on the bus will smile at you a lot and make sure you get the next open seat. Kindness goes a long way in China.

-Little Sparrow

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