Saturday, 5 February 2011

You’re crowding me!

- It’s rabbit season!
- Duck season.
- Rabbit…

Actually it’s the Year of the Rabbit according to the Chinese calendar and this week celebrated the start of the new year. As expected, London’s Chinatown was teaming with people, us included. Unlike most of the crowd that gathered off Gerrard Street to gawk at the dancing dragon snaffling hanging lettuces to the beat of bass drums, we’re in Chinatown every other weekend. (Just to set the record right, for those of you unfamiliar with the custom – sometimes I wonder “who reads this blog?” - the dragon (which is a heavily embroidered and stylised puppet operated by a team of between 2 and 4 men) doesn’t steal the lettuce, it is willingly offered up by businesses in the hope that the dragon will bless their business with good fortune and lots of money during the coming year.)

Where was I? We’re in Chinatown several times a month. Usually on a Sunday (or a Saturday if George – the world’s favourite yoga teacher – is away) and usually in or around 11:30: the opening time for dim sum at The New World. The New World is one of the few (if not the only) restaurant in Chinatown to offer dim sum on the traditional trolleys rather than letting you order off a menu. Trolleys are great: you can pace the ordering and the food stays hot, also, you’re tempted to try delicacies (chicken’s feet – yum! – don’t diss it till you try it) that might not jump off at first glance from a menu.

They know us (the tall red head with the little excitable brunette), as well they should. We’ve been going for over 12 years starting with our first meal when we moved to London.. They know our routine (we won’t take a table upstairs, and we want to sit in what used to be known as the smoking section, we like chilli oil and chilli sauce, he has oolong tea, and we get two glasses of tap water).. They’ve also got used to the fact that even though we are white, we LOVE chicken’s feet and that I also love tripe and sea snails. They also know that we won’t have food that panders to white people such as pot-stickers (the food, not the white people). They also accept our (I imagine) disastrous pronunciation of the dishes’Cantonese names. In summary, The New World is a wonderful place and you should try it sometime. And do me a favour, try the chickens’feet. Don’t go “uugh”, as my father the scientist always says: “You should try everything at least once and then you can decide.” Chicken’s feet are divine. And don’t give me that nonsense about being put off by what they are. What you eat at most fast food chains probably contains equally exotic animal parts albeit incognito. And let me remind the British amongst you that for several years you unwittingly ate beef from cows that had been fed… other dead cows. ‘Nough said. I think I’ve made my point.

Where was I again? Chinese New Year. Chinatown gets very crowded. Unusually, we were there on a Saturday around 1:30 (courtesy of “yoga with George” and a brisk 45 minute walk into town). We had to wait for a table – double the time on account that we refused the two tables available upstairs. It was packed with people waiting with their tickets, with their children, with their friends, with people try to jump the queue (“Oh I didn’t realise these people were waiting!” “What did you think we all were: some sort of Novelty Chinese New Year’s decoration?”). Still, I didn’t mind the crowding half as much as I have in the past (even though if you ask him, I was still in a rather bristling mood… courtesy of a VERY demanding hour and half yoga session with George in which I almost died from exhaustion, and I’m one of the stronger ones.) Still, I kept thinking that this was not a proper crowd, at least not in terms of the crowds we witnessed in China.

I don’t think I told you about the subway on our recent trip? Did I? Here’s a little survival guide if you ever decide to go and check it out for yourself.
First: prepared to be impressed, Shanghai and Beijing have ultra modern subway networks, stations, and trains and everything is spic and span. No graffiti, no litter. No smell of wee.
Second: figure out BEFORE you get on the subway, BEFORE it even pulls up into the station what the name of your stop is and most importantly how many stops that is from where you are.
Now. When the train arrives and the doors open, precipitate yourself headlong into the carriage. Do not wait for the other people to get off first. You think that’s rude? Try it your way. I give you two tries at being courteous. Third time round you’ll be charging aboard like the rest of us. Why? Because if you don’t then you simply won’t get on. Ever. The trains are ALWAYS crowded, rush hour style. Comprende?
Now you’re on the train. Move away from the doors towards the relative safety of the middle of the carriage (there are no separation between carriages, it’s like one long corridor from one end of the train to the other.) Why? Because when the train stops at the next stop (which presumably isn’t your stop), if you are by the doors you will be swept out of the carriage by the crowd getting out and before you know it you will be standing at street level wondering how you got there.
Now it gets more complicated. As your station gets closer (let’s say two stops away), start inching towards the doors… but not too fast! (See previous point).
Now you are one stop away… next stop is yours! Push your way through (I never figured out how to say “excuse me” in Mandarin) and prepare to catapult yourself off the train BEFORE the crowd tries to get on. You will be helped in this by the crowd trying to get off. Then dust yourself down, ride one of the immaculate escalators to street level, exit, and bask in your success.
One last thing, before boarding, remove back pack and coats and hold in front of you – thus reducing your surface area which as any physicist worth his salt knows, reduces the amount of friction, and by extension temperature and increases speed.

Try it. And try some chicken’s feet. Over 1.3 billion people have. You don’t want to be left behind.

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