My Morning Commute or "Ten Minutes on the Shanghai Subway"

42 minutes.

That’s the exact length of my work commute (that is, if don’t count stopping at the milk coffee-tea stall along the way). Of those forty-two minutes, less than ten are spent underground, passing two subway stops on Line 11 of the Shanghai Metro – from Shaanxi Nan Lu to Jiaotong University (it’s actually closer to seven; I timed it on a particularly boring morning).

These are my impressions of those ten fleeting minutes, partly inspired by this scene from Broad City – my attempt to capture the essence of a Shanghai subway commute:

  • There is a man simultaneously eating both of the jianbing (stuffed to the brim with eggs, scallions, hoisin sauce, and a pair of deep-fried youtiao) that he is holding in both hands. I am both disgusted at someone eating on the metro, but I would be lying if I wasn’t a little impressed at his determination to double-fist breakfast.
  • A middle-aged man, arms and legs wrapped around a pole, sweating profusely, though it’s barely 35ºF outside.
  • A woman wearing a full set of false lashes, her hair perfectly blown out curled, and her skin just a tad too ashen to be her natural tint. That make-up must have taken at least 45 minutes to put on (What’s her secret? I woke up at 7am and I still look.. well, like this).
  • A middle-aged businessman talking loudly through his iPhone (“NO, 听我说…”)
  • An Ayi whose hairstyle is reminiscent of instant ramen or ’90s Justin Timberlake’ (which reminds me, had I eaten breakfast?).
  • A girl my age, who I’m pretty sure has mastered the stand-up nap. She’s snoring ever so gently. (Please teach me your technique, subway lady)
  • At least four girls glued to their iPhones, watching Korean dramas (seriously? Korean dramas at 8am?)
  • Awkward Chinese couples, languidly embracing like listless sausages.
  • A 20-something wearing a PM2.5 a mask (He must have a cold. The AQI today is 78, much too low for a mask)
  • Two people who managed to nab a seat, holding on to giant suitcases, looking as if they’re on the way to the Airport (dudes, you’re on the wrong line)
  • A man in his 50s, proudly wearing a Steelers jacket (China: where Ben Roethlisberger fans go to hide)
  • And me.
What am I doing? On a good day, its the NYTimes Crossword (40 concert souvenirs? XLTEESHIRTS) or typing out a new blog entry on my phone. On a bad day? Well, I’m taking a cue from the sleeping girl and attempting to catch a five minute nap and debating whether to get a roasted sweet potato from the vendor by Exit 7 of the Jiaotong stop.



I feel like lately I’ve been alternating between more personal and more observational entries and I don’t know which ones I should focus more on. I’ve been able to spend a little more time writing the past few days, stuck at home with a case of that Chinese food poisoning all expats get on the regular, partially the fault of Qingdao.

You know, I don’t really know who is reading these entries, so in some ways it feels weird to put personal thoughts out in the open. But, on the other hand, isn’t that the whole point of blogging? I choose to share my thoughts with strangers, because in some ways, writing about my life helps capture what these years are really like. I have a few entries drafted that are verging on the almost too personal, talking about the reasons I first began writing, my health, and the ways my Russian and American upbringings have clashed (especially as of late, but on the other hand, I think that linked entry was probably my favorite post I wrote on this site).

The only person who I know definitely reads my blog is the one who encouraged me to start writing again, over a year ago (Hi!). And the rest? Well, that just goes into the void. I rarely check my stats, but when I do, I am always perplexed by the countries that come up (although really, it’s probably just the VPNs of people escaping the great firewall). In the end though, it’s not about the view count, it’s about being happy with the writing that I put out.

0 thoughts on “My Morning Commute or "Ten Minutes on the Shanghai Subway"”

  • I don’t know if you’ve seen Old Boy, the original 2003 version, but having read your previous post with all the live creature eating then your life sounded like a Korean film to me.

    And as for the personal posts I think the most important thing (for you) is that you’ve written them. Even if you don’t ever show them to us strangers do make sure that you hold onto all your writing and in the future they should be of great value to you.

    • Yes! We were actually reminded of the Oldboy scene when ordering the squid, although it was not quite as alive as the one in the film, much to our chagrin

      I think what writing ‘openly’ gives me is a sense of accountability for what I write (I’ve been thinking a lot about this NYTimes article recently, which I think you also took note of on Twitter: Putting it out here also allows me to connect entries together and see patterns in my writing, which honestly really help with my memory. I have a notoriously bad memory for things, especially conversations and over the past few months, I’ve had things come back to me that I hadn’t thought of in years, which I think has come from putting it all down. There are definitely private things that I don’t think are appropriate for a place like a blog, but I’m seeing this as more of a venue where I’m able to open up, which I think is a good thing. 🙂

    • Right?! I feel like it’s such a weird form of writing. I’m sharing a lot of my private thoughts, but they’re only the private thoughts I’m okay sharing.

Leave a Reply