We’ve all been there, stuck in a situation where it seems like there is no way out. It’s a state of panic, of complete and utter nervousness that you just can’t escape. My traumatic predicament happened yesterday morning, on my way to my internship at this very magazine. What could’ve ended up in disaster, ended up being a moment that I will treasure for years to come.
Before I leave my apartment for the office, I pack my bag with all the essentials I will need for the day: my laptop, money, and a subway card. At home, we don’t each have our own subway cards. My mom insists that we all ‘share’ them, so the four cards we have just circulate between us on whatever day we happen to need it. Yesterday however, I forgot to ask my mom for one before she left for work in the morning. I happened to find a lonesome card on the top of my dresser, so I instinctively grabbed it and headed towards the door to leave. A thought came to me as I left: Will it have any money on it? I should have taken it as a warning; my subconscious mind trying tell me something that I blatantly ignored.
My apartment isn’t exactly located in the most convenient location. Getting to the subway requires a ten-minute public bus ride, which isn’t the most pleasant thing to do at 9:00 in the morning. It’s rush hour at that time, so the bus is often packed to the brim with what feels like all of humanity.
As the bus pulled up to the stop, I squished on along with many others, all of us equally anxious to get to our desired locations. As the doors closed on the back of my heels, I reached over the many heads around me and swiped my card. To my horror, a message appeared on the screen as soon as I scanned it. Though I couldn’t understand the specific characters that stared back at me, I knew what they meant. My card was out of money.
Of course, I had brought money with me. I had a RMB 50 bill to buy lunch at the 7-11 near the office, but I had no small change for the RMB 2 bus fee. I’ve seen people on the bus sneakily get away without paying, but in that moment, all eyes were on me as I frantically searched through my bag to find smaller money. To my dismay, there was nothing. Since I couldn’t communicate my problem to the driver with my limited Chinese vocabulary, I pulled out my 50 as a cry for help. He angrily hollered back “língqián?” which translates to “small change.” It was obvious to me that I was wasting his time. I shook my head no, and immediately began to ponder how I was going to get out of this dilemma.
When you can’t understand the world around you, it’s not uncommon to assume that the people around you feel likewise towards you. Yesterday I was reassured that this theory of mine often isn’t true. A middle-aged man beside me in that instant stepped up to my rescue. He gave me a quick nudge to get my attention, pulled out two ones, and slipped them into the plastic money slot for me. I took a breath of relief, and thanked him in the best Chinese that I could mutter in that moment: “xièxiè,” meaning “thank you”. He replied dutifully with “méishì，méishì,” which means “no problem.”
I didn’t get to express nearly as much gratitude as I would’ve liked to. In a city where being a foreigner isolates you, to have someone to come to your aid in times of you most need it can seem like an angel from heaven. Though it was a small gesture, I wish I could repay the man for his act of kindness towards me.