Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Size batters

China is engineered around people who are smaller than Westerners. I measured the width of the seats on the bullet train, and the bus from Kunming to Dali. 14 inches, which would be perfect if I had no arms. My armpits about line up with the armrests on both sides of the seat, and when you consider that I have arms and shoulders bulging a few inches further on each side, I’m not well suited to middle seats. On the bus, the guy in front of us tried to recline his seat and only made it halfway before banging my knee. He glared at me, even though (for him) the impact was padded by his seat cushion.

I did have headroom, though. The train from Dali to Lijiang did not. I’m very familiar with European trains that have many semiprivate booths, with 3 people on each side facing each other and armrests separating them. The Chinese trains are equally wide, but the semiprivate booths have 4 people in the same space, without armrests. There is also less legroom. Best of all, there is a luggage rack above our seats that is about 3 inches too low, even if I slouch. On height, length, and width, I’m boxed in. The four Chinese people seated across from us seem comfortable. They’re quite cheerful and social, and my brother has them engaged in Mandarin quite well. I wish someone would show up and speak Spanish or German. Ideally, someone small.

The line to get on our train from Dali to Lijiang. The line is in the middle of the picture, moving to the left side. Lots of shoving.

When I lived on Soledad Mountain, I had to commute by the famously unknown midget houses. They are occupied by (you guessed it) persons who inspired my post about the Urban Hop maneuver, and look like normal houses except for really low ceilings. I wondered how people remained sane during construction. Either they hired only little people to build the homes, or they hired people who had to slouch and bump their heads constantly, much like “Being John Malkovich” except not funny. But the theory of a midget crew cannot be right, because the houses do not have huge lollipops, and the driveways are paved with regular asphalt instead of yellow bricks. So a bunch of contractors and their subs had to endure daily Quasimodoization. I used to feel sorry for them. Not anymore. At least they got paid.

We stayed in some great hotels and hostels, which were generally very cheap. The rooms were large enough, but the showers are also meant for smaller people. The faucets are around neck level, and even the rain showers can only really rain on my shoulders unless I stoop.

Size does have benefits. When I left the baggage claim area at Shanghai airport, then a week later at Kunming airport, I had to find my brother. Like any airport, there were ostensibly patient throngs clogging the baggage claim area, waving signs and arms in thinly veiled competition with their neighbors. Where is my brother? Look left. Look right. Scan faces. No match. Look over- hey, that guy’s really tall! Look up. It’s Steve!! This algorithm works every time. Don’t look at individuals; just look for the tallest person. Two of the Aussies we were hanging out with were blond, and said they also had an easy time finding each other. That would work too. On the other hand, Chinese people trying to find each other amidst a sea of Westerners might have trouble.

Here is a picture of my by a urinal that says “Please aim forward.” (Indeed, urinal targeting is a challenge for Chinese men, as per my next blog post.) However, this would have been messy given obvious height differences. I did not follow the rule, but instead aimed down.

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