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Gareth is an Australian who has lived in JiangSu, SuZhou (Heaven on Earth) for a few years - he is a keen observer of the Chinese people, Chinese culture and the changes that are occurring in China at break-neck speed. He can often be found on his a nightly 'perch' in front of his bar in the famous Bar Street in Suzhou, talking to the locals in his bad Mandarin, teaching the 'flower-selling girls' English, eating street food and smiling at the local chengguan (neighbourhood police). Gareth also has several other businesses in China around Business and English training. His experiences have been varied and interesting and his years in China have taught him to be wary of promises but excited about prospects, not a bad situation to be in!
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What time is 'soon'!    

By Garreth Humphris
2403 Views | 7 Comments | 10/14/2012 1:33:49 PM

I was reading the other day that one of the changes made on the London Underground that increased customer satisfaction the most was not adding more trains, or cleaning the stations, having more female toilets, increased security or having smoother transit through the stations or anything else like it, it was actually providing a countdown timer for when the next train would arrive!
So this says a lot about human behaviour - if we know the time when something will happen, then we are happier than having a vague 'soon’.

I found myself applying the idea to two of my former staff members that I met again last week.  

One was fretting because her mother had been to visit her and she had an ultimatum - marry your foreign boyfriend within the next 6 months or the parents would arrange a wedding for her before it was “too late” - the mystical 28 year old ’use-by’ date. Meaning that in much of Chinese culture, a woman over this age and unmarried is ineligible. There is even a word for it in Chinese sheng nve (left over woman).

My friend’s dilemma was that she was perfectly happy in her relationship with her boyfriend and was unsure how to “attack” the subject with him - given the ultimatum she had been delivered! Marriage proposal before Chinese New Year or ... She wasn't sure how the boyfriend would respond - because it had never been an issue - would he say yes, or would she return to her hometown to marry a pig farmer, at her parents behest!

Back to the train analogy, she had the departure time, she just didn't know which train would arrive at the platform!

The second lady had essentially settled into a seat on the train, but wasn't sure when it was actually going to depart.

She was a bit older and had a teenage daughter, she was divorced and had found a foreign boyfriend who took good care of her, allowed her to purchase designer clothes, took her on overseas holidays and to expensive restaurants. She was very happy, but still very worried - The main problem, he was estranged but not divorced. He had promised her that he would divorce and marry her, but this was slow coming! He would start proceedings soon, they would be married soon, they would buy a house in China soon...she hoped sooner rather than later, but it wasn't so clear-cut.

The gossip of the day was about another associate who got on the wrong train for the wrong reason and got off at the next stop - she had married a few years ago and been recently divorced! 
There was an age gap of 20+ years between the young Chinese woman and the foreign man and he had a family overseas. They had dated for 3-4 years and seemed like a good couple, they accompanied each other everywhere and their wedding had been a lavish “multi-cultural” extravaganza in her hometown.
His stipulation in the marriage, no more children - she married him knowing this, but was unable to defeat the family requirement of an son and heir.
He held firm and the marriage didn't last - the ’last chance for a baby’ at 30 years old was quick divorce and re-marriage.
The two friends reported the outcome - she had recently married an “ugly” local man she had no feelings for and was expecting a baby. Her family were excited, but she didn't seem to be! She was talking about divorce soon after the baby was born. 

Are there other options for travel that don't require a long train journey - some people try ’train hopping’, changing trains at obscure stations a few times to get to a destination. Or maybe the ’midnight subway’ is more your style. Or maybe you have the quaint hobby of ’train spotting', collecting a brief montage of different types and models of trains! Each to his own! 
Of course, some of us don't even know where the railway station is located, or we turn up at the bus station instead of the railway station because we got the complex timetable of life upside-down. Or some, like me, end up bicycling everywhere because public transport (and especially train travel) scares the hell out of us!

One of the key points about ’train’ travel in China is that you really have to listen closely to the “announcements” that are made - sometimes the ticketing isn't so clear, or the boarding gate is obscure or the location to the assembly area is shrouded - but one thing is sure, the route has already been set and the train will depart at the correct time regardless of whether you are on it or not. The other true point is that the train driver controls the speed of the train, not the passengers! Happy journeys!

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Comments
(Showing 1 to 7 of 7) 1
#2012-10-05 12:11:22 by anonymous4458 @anonymous4458

The one thing about train rides is that sometimes you get to "Toot Toot" the whistle and you can ring the bell to get off...

#2012-10-05 22:03:27 by danruble @danruble

I believe in equal opportunity..Let the lady toot the whistle...And a gentlemen let's the lady get off first... Rings my bell.

#2012-10-10 12:36:43 by sunrise68 @sunrise68

It's strange why that foreign man insisted on having no more children. Generally, men like having their kids, while women may not like because they don't want to risk life to give birth.

#2012-10-15 01:58:55 by aussieghump @aussieghump

Sunrise, for me children are a responsibility that stretches deep into my old age!
These days, children are often around for 20+ years, which is ok, but also a big drain on cash and resources in retirement!

This might sound selfish, but if a man already has a family, then he might not be too interested in more! In this case, his Chinese wife was younger than his youngest daughter!

#2012-10-16 10:33:16 by anonymous4504 @anonymous4504

Unquestionably, Dan.

#2012-10-19 18:23:55 by woaizhongguo @woaizhongguo

This may well be my favorite column of yours as I try how I stand with regard to this rich analogy you have provided. Certainly train travel in China is very different than train travel in America. I sure haven't figured it out. In fact, every time I think I have the train system here figured out, I find out how truly little I know about it.

#2012-10-28 20:53:03 by Jessie0801 @Jessie0801

This is a very good article! I like your opinion!

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