Opinion / Chris Peterson

Discovering the joys of commuting, 52 years on

By Chris Peterson (China Daily Europe) Updated: 2016-08-05 08:09

It's an unwritten rule that you don't speak to anyone on your ride into town, but I'm glad I broke it

I have, I think, been hugely spoiled. Not so much in terms of material goods, but by having to avoid the deadly commute to the office for much of my working life.

In all the places I've been lucky enough to work in, getting to work has been relatively easy.

In Saigon, it was a two-minute stroll from my house to the office on the same street. In Singapore, it was a brisk walk, as it was in Bangkok. Hong Kong was a gentle downhill stretch, although I admit to taking a taxi home.

Paris was a bus ride, but in a city like that it was no hardship. Best of all was my recent working trip to Beijing, a leisurely stroll from my apartment to China Daily's headquarters, seeing how much of a laugh I could get out of the young security guards with my valiant efforts to mangle the Chinese language.

Discovering the joys of commuting, 52 years on

Not for me the sweaty, jam-packed South London commuter trains and Tube that promise hell on Earth at breakfast time.

Until now.

It's been a year since I took up the role of managing editor here at China Daily's London headquarters, and I confess I was not looking forward to the prospect of commuting by train. But you know what? Once again, I've landed on my feet.

Gentlemen's hours mean I don't have to fight the great unwashed for a seat. A civilized starting time means I avoid all that, the same with coming home.

Plus, and here's where I really got lucky, China Daily has thoughtfully located its London office only a three-minute walk from Cannon Street Station, which is my terminus.

So, it's drop the grandchildren at school, leave my wife at the bus stop, and park up at the station for the 20-minute run into town. That means I get to pick my seat, and engage in my favorite pastime of people-watching.

We humans come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and nationalities, and they're all on display on the 9.15 from Westcombe Park.

First off, there's the Chinese students: the boys trying - and failing - to look mean and moody behind sunglasses; the girls vying with each other on the fashion front - right now its shorts and T-shirts, all paired with the inevitable mobile phone and earbuds.

Discovering the joys of commuting, 52 years on

Then there are the makeup artists, who I assume are young mothers who have rushed from dropping the children at school and are using the 20-minute train ride to carefully do their makeup.

There's also a number of men in their 40s, some of whom, disturbingly, seem to think wearing a baseball cap back to front, accessorized with giant stereo earphones, somehow makes them cool. Trust me, guys, it doesn't. Please stop.

Next up, the young couple; recently married from the look of their shiny, new wedding rings. The body language says it all - one day they'll be laughing and sharing a joke from the screens of their mobile phones, the next day they'll be sitting 2 meters apart, studiously avoiding eye contact.

Of course, it's an unwritten rule that you don't actually speak to anyone on your ride into town. At best, it's just a very British nod of the head and the ghost of a smile. I've only broken that rule once, and in a sense I'm glad I did.

Most mornings there's a sprightly, gray-haired man dressed for work in the city who gets on the train but varies the stop at which he gets off. Sometimes I've spotted him at the London Cannon Street barriers, getting off a train and then heading back to another platform with a sort of aimless air about him.

So one morning, finding myself sitting next to him, in an otherwise empty carriage, I said hello and struck up a conversation.

It turned out he was in his 80s, a retired insurance broker called Frank who lived not far from me in Greenwich. He told me he loved the routine of commuting, and when he retired he just wanted to carry on using the train. Like me, he has a Freedom Pass, which the London authorities give to over-65s for free travel on buses, trains and the Tube. So he's free, literally, to indulge his odd pastime.

All human life is here.

The author is managing editor of China Daily European Bureau. Contact the writer at

(China Daily European Weekly 08/05/2016 page11)

Most Viewed Today's Top News
Scrutinize US air strikes more closely
The unique loanwords in our daily life By zoe_ting

In our daily life, more and more loanwords appear and change our habits in Chinese expression. Loanwords sound very similar with their original English words, and the process of learning them is full of fun to foreign students.

Going "home" for the first time in four years By SharkMinnow

It has been a while since I've contributed to this Forum and I figured that since now I am officially on summer holiday and another school year is behind me I would share a post with you.