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My subway suitor a throwaway card in the game of life

By  Mark Hughes (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-04-28 15:06
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My subway suitor a throwaway card in the game of life

I was accosted in the swirling throng of people at Huixinxijienankou subway station in Beijing the other day by a middle-aged Chinese lady.

I have no desire to be unkind, but the truth of the matter was that, like me, she was no oil painting.

There was an air of despair about the poor woman.

Her eyes were veiled with a curtain of sadness. Her clothes were all-city camouflage. Her hair had not been near a dresser in months.

She was clean but shapeless, a nondescript in a sea of rushing faces. The only one there with no apparent purpose, no urgent need to get somewhere else, somewhere outside her own head.

She looked me in the eye as she grabbed my arm and, shockingly, asked in good English, "Can I come home with you? I'm lonely. I'm a middle school teacher but I am really lonely."

Her voice was pitifully, plaintively bleak.

I shrugged her off, lying to her that I was busy and late for an appointment. I had no room for the poor wailing wretch in my life. It's dull enough as it is without adding an extra burden.

"Please let me come with you," she implored again. "I am so lonely."

Sympathy momentarily vied with fear at the sight of this pathetic creature. Self-interest presided, and I said partly in truth, "I am sorry", before pushing my way through the crowd, afraid she might follow.

As I neared the top of the escalator, I looked back with relief to find she was not behind me.

I made my way home pondering how it could be in a bustling city of 19 million souls that someone could be lonely. But of course I knew the answer.

The fact is Beijing, like many cities, is so bustling that people have little time or inclination to stop and make friends. So many millions live cooped up in identikit tower blocks. Many, so many, are far from family and loved ones.

And if you are not blessed with good looks, a winning smile and charisma, it's unlikely you will attract anyone.

Fate deals a mixed hand to humanity.

There are those it shines upon aesthetically, bestowing a matinee idol appearance.

There are those who benefit from wit or high intelligence.

Then there are those with the dud cards, the two of diamonds, the four of hearts, maybe the six of clubs and the seven of spades. Never higher than sad seven. Destined to a life of mediocrity at best.

If that's all you've got to show, your fate is sealed.

You may as well chuck it in. You're never going to be a winner. In fact, you have already lost.

The vast majority of people have mixed hands, with some good or excellent cards and some not so good. They learn to make do with the stronger ones. People with nice eyes but bad teeth rarely open their mouths.

As the 19th German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, "The lonely one offers his hand too quickly to whomever he encounters."

My sad subway suitor did just that.

We can be an insensitive lot, preferring the company of the more popular, the better looking, the funnier, the wiser.

We want to feed off others' success rather than dishing out our own trump cards willy-nilly. We tend to be bloodsuckers, not blood donors. Donating is a mug's game, even in family-oriented China.

"Give me what's mine and some of what's yours" is the rising crescendo of the chorus of a community that goes about its bustling day after day, month after month, year after year. Until the music stops.

But how would you feel if I told you the severe delays on Line 5 that day were caused because some unfortunate soul, incapable of finding meaningful companionship, had hurled herself in front of a train, her soft body mercilessly gutted by hard, hot steel, the low-value cards she carried during her relatively brief and meaningless life fluttering in the draught before settling on a grimy station floor, to be trodden underfoot?

Tell me, honestly, how would you feel?

Key Words


Tea    Peking Opera


Cultural Heritage

Jade  Chinese  New Year

Imperial Palace

Chinese Painting