The #10 line changed our lives. Suddenly, we could cross Beijing not only east to west on the old #1 line, which conveniently passes the stretch of western hotels (where we often had meetings), Tiananmen (where we often took visitors), the local shopping streets, the financial district, museums, the opera house, and other grand landmarks.
On the new #10, we could now zoom north from the Central Business District to the stadiums, past the expat dining and shopping streets, the diplomatic sections, the change to the airport, and swing around west all the way to the university district. With that trajectory, the #10 line boasts a fairly upscale ridership—lots of students, always a few westerners, middle-class workers with briefcases.
Back in Beijing for another long stay this past winter, I returned from my first outing on the #10 line, marveling to my husband how passengers' behavior had improved during our eight-month absence. This was important news: For about a year before the 2008 Olympics, Beijing tried to train its residents to put on a good show for international visitors by queuing in lines instead of pushing and shoving and forming a crushing wedge of humanity toward whatever spot was the common destination. The eleventh day of every month was declared stand-in-line day, when residents would dutifully practice. Now, it seemed to me, it had finally paid off.
Riders on the #10 line stood in two orderly queues along a painted stripe that marked the outside edge of the doors. As the train approached, no one budged. And furthermore, instead of the usual rush to board at the instant the doors opened, everyone stood like potted plants waiting for passengers to exit before boarding themselves.
Several days later, my husband and I were riding the #2 line, one of Beijing's oldest, which follows an inner loop of the city, a relic of an earlier era of a smaller Beijing. The #2 line also skirts past a messy, busy terminal of the long-distance buses, and is an access point for the Beijing train station, making it a favorite for migrant workers, who seem to be in perpetual transit.
To get home, we had to make the change to the #1 line at what I always dreaded as the worst station in Beijing, Jianguomen. I hate that station, because it's old, awkward, and always swarming with unruly crowds. This would be a real test of stand-in-line behavior.
We had just missed a train and were first in line for the next. During the three-minute wait, the line behind us grew into a throng. When the train arrived, we were swept into the car by sheer crowd momentum. My husband, by a head the tallest person on the train, was lucky, I thought, as he could peer out above the sea of black hair. But not so lucky, I realized, in another way. A migrant worker had slung his giant plastic grain sack (probably holding most of his worldly possessions) over his shoulder, thrusting the sack smack into my husband's stomach, doubling him over into an awkward, unwieldy C shape around the grain sack. I doubted he could maintain this posture to the next station.