Officially corruption is not done, also in China. But a bit of corruption can be very useful, explains author Zhang Lijia on her weblog. For example, when you have to catch the train to Nanjing on 9 a.m. and you do not have the right ticket.
It was now 8.40 am. The gate to the 9 am train wasn’t open yet. Tailing behind the woman, we came to a side entrance. She told people guarding the entrance that I was on her tour. They just opened the gate without even checking my ticket. The granny obviously knew her way around as she chatted with people along the way. On the top of the stairs that led down to the platform, she pointed at the train and said: “That’s your train. You go. Now, 30 yuan.” As simple as this? “No, please take me to the train as you promised,” I pleaded. Granny eyed at me up and down. “What do you do, reading books in foreign language?” she pointed at a novel in English I was holding, Amitav, Gosh’s Glass Palace. I had to take it out of my small back pack because it was bursting with presents I had just bought for my family. “I am a writer,” I said. “Writer! Wow, my daughter loves literature,” a smile blossomed on her winkled face. “Come on then. I am wasting so much time here. I could have signed up more people on my tours but you are a writer,” she talked garrulously.
We got on the train where the attendants were getting things ready. Granny told one of them to keep an eye out for me. The girl suggested that I go to carriage 4 – the dinning car to wait – since the train was full. In the dining carriage, I found two tall round tables but no seats. In a few minutes, passengers burst onto the train and occupied their rightful positions; uniformed staff briskly walked past the dining area. I avoided eye contacts with them – I still wasn’t sure what would become of me. I anxiously waited for the departure of the train. Only then would I feel safe.
I was very glad to receive a phone call from a French friend. We chatted and laughed until the train started to move. Then I let out a sigh of relief. To justify my presence, I bought a cup of tea. A sweet young girl serving behind the counter smiled brightly at me: “Are you a Chinese? Your English sounds so good!” I confirmed that I am Chinese, from Nanjing. I nursed my tea, leaning against a rail by the window. There were a few others hanging out at the dining car. I wondered what their stories were. The girl kindly informed me that there was still one free seat among the seats that allocated to the dinning passengers, right behind the dinning carriage. I nodded gratefully. Just as I picked up my bag, my coat and shawl, a man in a fine suit dashed out. By the time I reached the seats, I found the man in suit sitting among the diners, his head leaning against the seat, eyes closed.
I returned to the dining car. No big deal, I told myself, as long as I could stay on the train, I could handle standing for an hour. But the sweet girl was determined to help me. She went out and returned with the news that one of diners said I could take his seat in carriage 7. Off I went, with a seat and an almost legitimate status on the train. With my own ticket, I passed the ticket checkout point at Nanjing station without a hiccup. The granny scheme worked!
I guess that’s the thing with corruption in China: everyone hates it and everyone is also willing to be part of it.
More on Zhang Lijia and China’s moral crisis on Storify.
Zhang Lijia is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need her at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch, or fill in our speakers’ request form.
- Women holding up half of the sky? – Zhang Lijia (chinaspeakersbureau.info)
- A nation of 1.4bn cold hearts – Zhang Lijia (chinaspeakersbureau.info)
- China’s moral crisis – Zhang Lijia (chinaspeakersbureau.info)
- Receiving hate-mail after my Yueyue story – Zhang Lijia (chinaspeakersbureau.info)
- Most popular stories of October 2011 (chinaspeakersbureau.info)