After more than ten days in China, I have officially reached my threshold of being elbowed, shoved and run into. In Western cultures these actions are considered rude. Even in the sporting world, many of these actions would result in penalties. In hockey, throwing an elbow would get two minutes in the penalty box! However, I am starting to believe that pushing, shoving and elbowing are normal and accepted behavior in China.
More than any other destination, China has exhausted me both mentally & physically. Each day I look forward to retreating to our accommodations as I know that it will provide the much needed “time out” away from the crowds of people, the pushing, the shoving and the elbowing.
Each day, I think my tolerance level decreases. Today while visiting the Terracotta Warriors, I hit my threshold. I was ready to send more than a few people to the penalty box for elbowing!
The Terracotta Warriors draw a lot of tourists to a small confined area—and most of the tourists are Chinese. There is a wall around the warriors and many people try to view and get pictures from the same platform. As a result, there is a constant stream of people pushing their way towards the front to score a clear and unobstructed photo.
In another building, glass cases showcase a few of the warriors so people can view them up close. In this area, it is not uncommon for people to step in front of you, push you or elbow their way forward. I even attempted to stand back and observe from a distance and was unable to avoid physical contact.
The Breaking Point
My breaking point happened on the stairway. I was coming down while a large tour group was going up. They came at me four across—each one with headphones in their ears and cameras around their neck. I got squeezed to the edge and up against the wall! To stick with the hockey metaphor, I was checked against the boards. Things changed from that point forward…
I am ashamed to admit it, but I began to intentionally cock my elbows outward and walk with intent for the remainder of the time. I freely kneed, elbowed and ran into anyone that crossed my path. If I couldn’t beat them, I decided I should join them in the name of self defense.
I am learning that the concept of personal space in China does not exist. The aggressive behaviors we’re seeing may simply be a defense mechanism—a survival of the fittest scenario—in a country with such a large population. The more time I’m in China, I too am learning to adopt some of the cultural behaviors such as eating noodles for breakfast and yes, even elbowing. But I’m not elbowing to get ahead of anyone, I’m doing it to protect the personal space that I have come to value.