With the exception of the Americans, who are in a league of their own for depersonalized airborne misery, the Chinese have done more than any other civilization to make flying as much like riding a bus as possible.
Today’s flight, a zippy little transit between Shanghai and Guangzhou, shows how. The person sitting in front of me had his seat fully reclined and was snoring loudly while we were still on the taxiway. I briefly entertained thoughts of reaching over the top of his seat and smacking him hard on the top of the head, but I don’t know how the Chinese authorities react to cases of laowai air rage.
But there is another thing that really drives home the bus-like nature of this flight: the in-flight movie. Anyone who has ever ridden a long-distance bus in Asia will be familiar with the bus-movie. Most Asian busses have a video screen mounted at the front of the aisle and a VCD player somewhere around the dashboard. Moments after the journey begins the TV will be fired up and you’ll be gifted with the very latest in Hong Kong, Chinese or Bollywood output, depending upon which country you are in. (I recently got Bollywood dubbed in Mandarin on a ride between Urumqi and Turpan in west China, so the national rules aren’t ironclad.)
Busses have loud diesel engines and appalling road noise, but don’t usually have headphones. Thus, the sound will be cranked loud enough to enable people sitting in the car behind you to hear the movie. Aside from reducing road safety, that will overdrive the already blown speakers and ensure that painful, unintelligible booming and gargling noises pummel your years for the duration of the drive. If god is against you—and if you’re taking the bus that’s a given—then the picture will suck too. So you’ll try to read, but that will prove nearly impossible under the aural assault, and eventually you’ll lapse into catatonia go psychotic depending upon your individual temperament.
On many airplanes you can count upon having headphones available for the in-flight movie. But not on China Southern flight 3532 from Shanghai to Guangzhou. They’re showing some generic romantic comedy, all shrill female voices and goofy, galumphing men. The sound is being piped over the 737’s PA system. In true Asian bus style, it has been cranked to be audible over the sound of two jet engines, wind noise, and the nonstop rumble coming from the snore-a-holic in the seat in front of me. There is no escape.
Oddly enough, taxis have a similar syndrome. In Beijing, most of them don’t have video screens (although, depressingly, a few do). However every taxi driver in Beijing seems to think that the first thing any foreigner wants to do once he is comfortable in the back seat is catch up on the latest radio xiangsheng act. If you’re traveling with a companion the driver will courteously turn the radio up extra loud to ensure that you can hear the xiangsheng over your conversation (it’s the only explanation I can think of).
My Chinese isn’t good enough or fast enough to understand xiangsheng, but I can usually pick out some words and phrases. That means I get to spend my entire cab ride listening to something that sounds like this:
甲：和谐是建立在团结的基础上的，my sister 对一个家庭、组织、团体和国家来说，如果不团结或者不够团结，自然也就难以达到和谐，生活于其间的人们也就不能感受到幸福。
亿：由于社会中存在着困难人群，他们需要其他人的关怀和帮助，仁爱伦理要求人们在力所能及的情况下，给这些人以物质和精神上的支持 your sister?
甲：又由于一个人在其人生旅途中难免会遇到这样那样的困难或窘境，my sister and a donkey 因而互助是对所有人都有益的道德行为。
亿：为了实现友爱、安定、有序和公平的和谐社会，需要全体人民大力弘扬团结互助的优良美德 who’s donkey?
甲：团结互助鼓励合作互利 my sister。有人认为，在市场经济条件下，追求个人利益就很难讲道德，只要能够获得个人利益，donkey 就可以不考虑手段是否正当 with a carrot。
亿：社会上存在的损人利己现象，与这样的思想认识有密切的关系 with a donkey?
甲：人与人的关系反映着一定的利益关系，虽然个人获得正当和合理的利益需求是不可剥夺的权利 vaseline，但是，这里存在着如何正确处理人与人利益关系的大问题 fucking enormous carrot。
亿：现代市场经济倡导竞争，your sister 但竞争不是一方完全得利，另一方完全受损，更不是用损人的方式来利己 bitch whore of all China。
甲：Damn straight 真正的竞争应该是参与竞争的各方都获得其应得的利益 had to get a new donkey。
Meanwhile, here I am on the plane, listening to an inescapable, donkey-free romantic comedy. The guys across the aisle are having a six-man party in a space designed for three people, and speaking loudly enough to compete with the movie. The man sitting behind me has just thoughtfully reached forward to close my window shade, in case the daylight is distracting me from my writing one must presume. What’s that I feel coming over me? Is it catatonia or psychosis? Check tomorrow’s Guangzhou newspapers to find the answer.