This week has been an absolutely insane start to the Chinese New Year holiday period, and a mind-numbingly chilly one at that.
Wednesday had been going particularly crappily all day, and it was freezing to boot. The kids were losing their minds with excitement as the holidays loomed, and the teachers had been mentally checking out all week. Basically this had all been a pretty standard final week of a semester.
I can normally understand these end of semester problems and am usually fine with it, but a class of 30 kindergarten aged terrors running wild mixes pretty badly with zoned out teachers and malfunctioning heaters.
I finished what felt like a nine thousand hour shift and came out from my train commute to see what looked like fifty Chinese people huddled under the tiny awning outside the train stop near my apartment.
This isn’t too unusual as people here seem to have a massive and irrational hatred of rain. Seriously rain here is a big deal, go to Disneyland on a rainy day and have the time of your life being the only one there.
Anyway, I was immediately confused about the public behavior because although it was cloudy it very clearly wasn’t raining.
It wasn’t until I was outside the awning that I noticed the tiny snowflakes lazily meandering their way down from the sky. My initial reaction was glee and excitement, almost immediately my Chinese friends started video calling me over WeChat to enthuse together over the rare occurrence.
This was a lot of fun the first night and a huge novelty, I made sure to get lots of photos of the tiny snowflakes to take full advantage of this little and rare moment in Shanghai’s history.
(There’s gonna be some wet bottoms)
Upon waking up on Thursday however, it was immediately clear that this had become a lot more than a few snowflakes and a “little moment”.
Snow covered everything and all day it continued to fall, it was quite exciting except for the intense and unrelenting cold. My fingers froze to the bone and my nose stopped having any sensation altogether.
Shanghai also seemed to be falling apart. According to Shanghaiist and the South China Morning Post trains were delayed and car accidents were happening all over the city, including a 10 car pile up in Putuo District.
Another crisis was the more than 100 flights that were cancelled coming into Shanghai and the enormous amount of animosity that created.
As a former cruise ship employee on a ship based in Shanghai, I know first hand how badly Chinese guests can react to problems with their travel.
Many guests from all countries can be poorly behaved, but perhaps due to exceptional standards in service provided by companies within China, Chinese guests can be easily disappointed and do not take disappointment well.
According to another Shanghaiist article, Chinese passengers waiting in Tokyo airports quickly became enraged by the delays.
The article talks about the poor service given by Jetstar Japan in dealing with the 24 hours delays and how Japanese customers were given preferential treatment.
The article also talks however about the Chinese customers banding together into large mobs, singing the national anthem and engaging in physical altercations with police officers, one Chinese passenger was arrested by the Japanese authorities over the incident.
While I wasn’t there and cannot speak with authority, this sounds identical to several encounters I experienced first hand aboard the Quantum, usually caused by an unexpected change such as an itinerary or a menu change.
My colleagues had a particularly harsh experience as less than a year before I joined the Quantum there was a passenger revolt on-board.
Due to inclement weather the ship had made a change in the itinerary and didn’t go to all the locations the guests were promised.
To try to make up for the inconvenience the ship provided free WiFi and lobster to make amends for the unavoidable change.
This however wasn’t enough and caused the passengers to refuse to leave the ship once the cruise ended. They banded together and sung and protested, some were removed physically and things quickly became violent.
You can read an article of the incident on the Royal Caribbean Blog Site but if your ever sailing, try to find a crew member who was there. The stories they have to tell of the savagery of the event will shock you, they really tone it down in the blog post.
My point is that I don’t really believe the airline will have performed that badly, when a mob forms there’s only so much you can do.
The snow has been falling consistently since Thursday but seems to have died down now as of this post. I didn’t work Friday thankfully and spent the whole day rugged up and sipping tea. Even with three jumpers and a blanket draped around me I was absolutely freezing, I showered three times to raise my body temperature.
It was nice to see kids playing in the snow though and I could tell from all the snapchatting millennials that the beauty of the situation wasn’t wasted on them.
There’s definitely a huge divide in behavior here in China between the old and the young.
People across China that I interact with and customers that I’ve assisted in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s have been largely quite easy to deal with and rational in conversation (not always).
I held a supervisor level role aboard the Quantum in the entertainment department and met with guests regularly to address issues and come to reasonable solutions.
When they were disgruntled I found that something free such as a small item or entry to a premium event showed good faith and the guest was pleased and reviewed the cruise highly.
But somewhere above the age divide I dealt with guests from another era and who thought completely differently.
These older guests rarely spoke the mainstream version of Mandarin and instead spoke regional dialects which made interacting with them much more difficult.
With the help of their family we could speak with them, but finding rational solutions with them was much more difficult due to their tenancy to fly off the handle and become emotional.
I get the impression that the generation that lived through horrific hardship, famine and revolution are still alive and look at the world through the scope of their conditioning. This has made them interact with the modern world in a way that seems completely irrational by today’s standards. One on one solutions can be found, but when I read articles of mobs forming and police stepping in over flight delays I feel bad thinking about what root causes are fueling insanity over relatively small trials.
When bad days and difficult experiences get me down however, I can always just look outside at the pretty snow and the future looks bright.
(My neighbor has a fun morning ahead)