Woman Pretends to Sleep in Priority Seat on Taipei's MRT

I'll preface this comment by saying Taipei has one of the best public transit systems in the world. Besides having a state-of-the-art MRT, which is clean, efficient and expanding, there is an extensive public bus system reaching to all parts of the suburbs and tourist destinations in the outlying mountains beyond. Indeed, there's pretty much no reason to drive to work or school if you live in Taipei. It's a cheap trip too; for example, I pay NT$31 (around a buck U.S.) to catch a bus and then the MRT to work every morning. Unfortunately, there are still some mean souls, as you will witness in the above clip, who insist upon giving the system a black eye. Anyone who commutes in Taipei has seen this type of unfortunate episode more times than he or she cares to remember. Here's a rundown on what I witnessed this morning. I'll follow it up with a suggestion or two:

I got on the MRT in Taipei this morning at the Longshan Station stop. It was already pretty crowded as it was Saturday morning and people were out to enjoy the weekend. A woman with two small children followed me into the carriage and made their way up to the priority seats. Everyone on the MRT knows what these are as they're dark blue, as opposed to the light blue of the regular seats. Priority seats are set aside for the elderly, disabled, parents with small children (like the woman behind me) and impregnated. One of the priority seats was empty, so the mother plunked her older child into it. I'm guessing he was around four. The other seat was occupied by a woman of about 40 to 50 years of age. I believe she knew she should give the seat up for the mother and her other child (around a year to year and a half). I noticed she was looking at the small family and pondering her next move. Instead of doing the right thing and getting her lazy butt out of the seat, she opted for another course of action and promptly pretended she was asleep.

As the MRT rattled out of the station, the mother put her seat-less child down and wrapped his tiny fingers around a nearby pole so he wouldn't fall down. Needless to say, he wasn't standing in the most stable way. Seeing this wasn't going to work, the mother was forced to pick him up and try to balance him in her arms while holding on to the strap. She also had to keep an eye on the second son, who was wiggling around and plotting mischief. Meanwhile, the woman with the lazy butt occupying the number two priority seat blinked open a couple of times before continuing with her pretended sleep. Low in sympathy and high in selfishness, she would have played out the charade if I hadn't gone over and tapped her on the hand.

"You need to let that mother sit down," I informed her. "Why don't you have a look at what's going on?"

"Why?" she asked me. "Why?"

"Because you are occupying a priority seat," I explained. Then I pointed at a sign indicating it was a seat reserved for the elderly, disabled, parents with small children and impregnated. The 40 something-ish woman had no choice but to stand up; everyone was looking at us. This is where things took an odd and disingenuous turn. Lazy butt actually wanted to explain:

"I was sleeping," she said. 

Like I said before, Taipei has a great transit system. For the most part, the people here are rule followers. They usually line up. They don't litter that much. And they show patience when it's crowded. But there should be more compassion for people, such as the elderly, disabled, parents with small children and impregnated who are also trying to navigate the system. Really, I don't know why, but there remains a sect among us who are way too stingy with their seats. During the Monday to Friday commute, it seems many of this sect are well-dressed, like they're office workers. The way I see it is they're going to sit on their butts all day; what harm would there be in standing for 10 or 15 minutes to surrender their seats to someone in need, even when they are in a non-priority seat? They must have their reasons, no matter how lame and unfathomable they may be.

The next time you see this sort of thing, call them out (if you're not already doing so). Give them a gentle tap or shake, or toe-to-toe kick to "wake" them up and whittle them out of their ill-begotten nest. There's nothing like a small public shaming to bring them around. Chances are everyone around you will give you a supportive nod. Who knows? When you're old, busted up and / or plied with offspring, somebody will do you a good turn too. Or, if we're lucky, this problem will be rooted out and resolved long before that happens. Please get involved and do your part. 


Truett Black said...

A few weeks ago, I witnessed a spectacular, 50ish Taiwanese lady put every poorly behaved person on the train into his or her place. She told a youngster not to block the walkway with his giant backpack. Then she told a young lady who was yelling into her cell phone to keep it down. Finally, she told a 20ish guy to stand up and let an elderly man sit down in the priority seat. She did it all politely and firmly, and everyone complied. She was my hero.

Jake said...

Great post, Patrick. This is also one of my pet peeves. Sleepy high schoolers during rush hour are also guilty, usually on buses. That being said, nine times out of ten, when I get on the bus with my wife and three-year-old, someone occupying the Bo-Ai seat who isn't a priority rider will yield it to us. Failing that, someone usually gets out of a non-priority seat in the back so I or my wife can sit down with D. I love Taiwan but every day I encounter the "mei gong de xin" phenomenon. You're right--you have to speak up or it's only going to get worse. Just one question though, impregnated or just pregnant? ;-)

Patrick Cowsill said...

"Just one question though, impregnated or just pregnant? ;-)"

Both will do, Jake. I'm just playing around with words.

I think most of the people in Taipei will agree with this post. It's aimed at the 10 percent or less who are still stingy souls. I hope people who are witnessing this phenom., and who don't like it, will get more involved.

I ride the MRT with my daughter pretty regularly. People are usually generous with me; and I never insist upon my rights if they're not. I don't have much of a problem holding my daughter for a few stops. It bugs me, nonetheless, when I see people who are really helpless, like an overwhelmed mom with two infants, or somebody really old, getting screwed around.

Like I said, the transit system here is still world-class. It could use a little more compassion though.

MJ Klein said...

nice undercover video, Patrick. good work.

Protocol Snow said...

I'm not sure why you keep reiterating that the transit system is world class and what relevance that has to selfish people, but congrats on being a hero for the day. You're right, Taiwanese are generally rule followers. Everywhere except for driving on the roads however ;)

Patrick Cowsill said...

"nice undercover video, Patrick. good work."

I was pretending to be using the Internet on my iPhone, but actually I had the camera on. That's why the film is such a mess.

"I'm not sure why you keep reiterating that the transit system is world class and what relevance that has to selfish people"

I'm not sure I know what you mean. I think the transit system is good; it couldn't be if nobody followed the rules, everyone was like lazy butt, etc.

Todd said...

When my parents' visited Taiwan the first time, riders on the MRT were always very eager to give their seats to them. My parents were very impressed with how courteous riders were.

However, when I used to live in Taipei, I would board a completely empty MRT at Beitou Station every weeknight and take a non-priority seat at the back of the train because it was always last to fill up. A lot of passengers would board at Jiantan or Shilin Station and I would always give it to anyone more deserving than me. It's funny, usually no one would stand up to give their seat up until they saw me stand up. I guess some riders figured they would lose face if only the Westerner on the train stood up while they remained seated.

Even my Mandarin teacher at Shida once remarked that Westerners were the only ones she saw regularly give their seats up.

James said...

I think you are way too lenient actually Patrick.

As you know, I could go on about the manners on the MRT til the cows come home and I will!

But one thing that sticks out to me is you use of the word 'patience'. Granted you are using people's tolerance of the rush hour madness.

However something that happens on nearly every train here is that people refuse to wait for the passengers to disembark. And waiting does NOT mean for the first three people then spotting a gap and dashing in.

First of all, this is just a stupid, inefficient way to do things. The people who do it are so desperate to get on but by jocking for position with those getting off are actually slowing things down.

More importantly though, I don't care if there is even ample space to get in - it is bad bloody manners and, when people do try and squeeze in, even if they are not directly in my path, I will deliberately, obdurately block them, explaining - should they give me a bewildered of offended look, that they should be more patient.

It's funny - I learnt that very word in this context, so I could tell people to exercise a bit more of it. The same applies from the other end, when someone is digging into my back trying to get me to move forward when the flow of disembarking passengers is not even close to having subsided.

It is, for me, closely related to hurry-up-and-wait mentality that anyone with an open-eye will have picked up on here. I was once instructed by a China Air rep that I had to join the queue boarding a plane to HK. I was sitting as close to the final gate as possible, reading my book as I always do, waiting for the queue to reach me. Some people stand there like tools for 30 minutes. When I asked him 'why?' he first tried to say it was the rules then, realising this silly claim was not going to work, said it make things quicker. Hilarious.

Why would anyone want to sit an extra 20 mins on a plane? You're not going to get a better seat or get anywhere quicker and strolling on once the melee of luggage storing, to-ing and fro-ing has died down is so much nicer.

Speaking of queuing, this is another aspect which, I'm afraid, needs a lot of improving. Most people do respect queues here - at least in the MRT but there are a sizable minority that try all sorts of ruses, from flagrantly pushing in from the side, to my personal fave.

This cunning technique involves moving up as the line moves forward into the carriage and in front of those who don't want to get on the packed train, and are waiting for the next one.

The next step is pretending you are trying to get on, 'failing', then conveniently finding yourself in the prime spot at the front.

I'm glad to say I'm not the only one who is onto this ploy and have seen a couple of people tap the shoulder of the offender (who always gives an innocent 'what did I do?' look)and tell them to get back to the back.

There's more but I'll leave it at that.

Oh, I won't. Special mention to (allegedly 65-yr-old) the man who charged up to me and started a diatribe against mannerless foreigners, who had no education or family values before I even had time to register he was there.

I must agree with Todd - the foreigners (of all descriptions) I have seen nearly always give up their seats, so I definitely felt a kettle to this bigoted git's pot.

Sorry about the length of that: you can see it's something of a grating issue with me.

Thoth Harris said...

Great comments and great rant, James. Of course, it isn't a problem to get the ball rolling if the people exiting are bloody slow and you are not blocking anybody. Otherwise, wait another goddamn second. Indeed, I concur!
And @Truett Black, that woman is awesome. A rare trait in Taiwanese, I am led to believe. You would never, ever find that here in Hsinchu, let alone, Miaoli, Taichung, etc. Everyone would just assume the woman was a foreigner, and would ignore her, or look at her like she was crazy. Mind you, there are advantages to the anarchy and selfishness (not really selfishness, since insane arbitrary dick moves on the road or whatever don't even help the doer, they just make the perpetrator into one of a million and a half lunatics in this county.
Still, I would never trade the freedom here for the nanny-state bug- up-the-arse Orwellian nightmare which is Taipei. Taipei is a fantastic and cool place to visit though. And as Patrick has sound a thousand times, the Monga District is a really nice area to live. Like Danshui, without the river.

Anonymous said...

I've lived in four cities with a subway system on three continents . Taipei riders have the best behavior hands down, no contest. Yes, some people will always break the unwritten rules but I agree with Patrick that the 9/10 rule applies. And that goes for all of the issues that James mentions. Ride the MRT in Singapore for a day and you'll worship the Taipei MRT.

Patrick Cowsill said...

"And as Patrick has sound a thousand times, the Monga District is a really nice area to live. Like Danshui, without the river."

LOL. We have the Hsin Tien River, which is about a ten-minute walk from my home in Monga. It turns into the Danshui River down the way.

@James -- I agree with your comments. And yet, I still believe Taipei has one of the best transit systems in the world, and not because I am simply a patriotic Taipei-er either. Rather, I've seen a lot of the systems with my own two eyes.

James said...

I have also travelled on the transit systems on 3 continents and I'm afraid I cannot agree with you anon.

As Patrick says - the system here is wonderful: efficient, clean and convenient (we shall see what happens when they have 15-plus lines though and the tunnels are 100 years old) but the etiquette is definitely woeful compared to my London.

Let's be clear, I am talking about certain basic courtesies - not being loud for example is, I'm afraid, a load of cobblers to me (when people on the national rail tell others to be quiet at 3pm because they are sleeping I find it hilarious. Tough fucking shit. As long as I'm not hollering, your supposed 'right' to have your wussy afternoon nap does NOT trump mine to have a chat with the friendly old fella next to me. We both bought tickets). Much more annoying is the old find furiously and monotonously muttering her sutras while thumbing her beads as I tried to read.

Give me happy, slightly raucous banter over repetetive droning, repeated snorting and hep-hem throat clearly (just blow your fucking nose or clear it one big hock you div!) and the blood-circulating hand-clappy-leg-slappy fucking idiocy that one ridiculous old bint insists on subjecting everyone to each morn.

That's why I'm not enamoured of all of hero lady's busybodying. Sure, it's good to speak up about some things like the priority seats. But I've seen a fair few doo-gooders telling highschool kids to keep it down when they weren't being particularly vociferous, yet not saying a word to the elderly peabrain screaming for all she's worth into her mobile in Taiyu. They tend to pick on those they deem meritorious of their sententious sermonising while turning a blind eye to other sections of the populace. This to me is hypocritcl and and basically the hallmark of a bully, who is not speaking out to make things better but to assert some supposed authority.

Just the same experience I get at, say, the hotsprings, where the same middle-aged know-it-alls will lecture forrin types and youngsters about the springs etiquette but never draw attention to the oldschoolers brazenly flouting the regulations because, of course, that wouldn't be 'li mao'.

No, what I'm talking about, anon, is queue pushing, not waiting for those alighting to get off and general pushing and shoving. It goes on everywhere and I'm afraid anyone denying it has become desensitised. Give someone a split second in a 711 and they will push in. It is the rule rather than the exception in the small towns, as Thoth indicated (I, like him, lived in Miaoli County for several years).

The point is, for all the antisocial, aggressive, drunken and confrontational behaviour you'll come across in London, you will never get the kind of sly queue dodging and desperate charging for seats you do here. Pushing in the UK and most of NW Europe is a serious offense and liable to catch you a beatdown.

Re: the aforementioned desperate dash for seats. Like Todd, I daily board the empty Nanshijiao train and I need to a Patrick and film what goes on there many mornings. It's not always specifically impoliteness per se but just shameful. I would rather stand for an hour than scurry like a demented water vole in mortal fear of being snapped up by a croc should he fail to reach the sanctuary of his burrow (chair).

Absolutely no self-respect or shame - it rally is an unsavoury sight. I once saw a man shove a woman to get to the last two seats at the end behind the glass barrier. Shameful.

James said...

Sorry bunch of typos in the latest blather.

Okami said...

I lol'd about the littering part. I wish it were that way once you leave Taipei City, but once you leave there they embrace the method of leaving their trash anywhere they damn well please. So many beautiful mountainside views that get marred when you look down and see where they dumped all their trash.

Patrick Cowsill said...

James made an excellent point to me somewhere different than this post / comments (I think we were chatting; the idea stuck with me because it's right on the money). He told me that he has no problem sitting in the dark blue priority seats because he sees them as any other seat on the MRT. In other words, all of the seats on the MRT are priority seats. No matter where you sit, you should be ready to vacate your seat if someone needs it more than you, period.

This reminds me of something I heard about the Spartans and priority seats in their civilization in antiquity. The Spartans obviously saw it the same as James; every seat in their town was absolutely reserved for the old, especially old men (as an extremely warlike city-state, they didn't have many of these kicking about; getting to be old was quite the achievement). Simply put, you saw someone old and you gave them your seat immediately.

Anyway, a Spartan traveled to Athens and was astonished to see non-squat toilets in the city. He asked an Athenian about their seated toilets. The response was a bored: "You don't have toilets on which people can sit upon in Sparta then?"

The Spartan, astonished, answered: "What if an old person were to come along while you were in the middle of taking a dump? How could you possibly get out of your seated toilet in time?"

James said...

hehe. nice one.

James said...

Oh and they have signs in English and Chinese saying make each seat a priority. They used to announce it too.

Those aforementioned water voles are explicitly dashing for the nonpriorities because they think that in some way makes them 'safe' for the ride.

They also used to have signs for and announce standing on the right to create a fast lane on the escalators, which I don't seem to come across anymore. Another pet peeve of mine when you have dozens of directionally challenged, head down, snail-pace shufflers around you - blathering into their mobiles to boot!

Terry J. Benzie said...

Nice post - nobody who rides the MRT should disagree with you.

Queuing in the MRT is interesting in that 95% of people at 95% of stations line up though at Main Station it all blows apart and a everybody over the age of 60 or under 20 ignores everybody in front of them. Interestingly, I have seen the "station attendants" encouraging people to do just that so perhaps I am missing something.

The Devil Futility said...

You should see the bus down from Wulai...people fall asleep within seconds when my wife gets on with our children. Amazing. She's taken to asking young women if they are pregnant when theyre sat in the priority seats now,...works everytime!

Patrick Cowsill said...

" She's taken to asking young women if they are pregnant when theyre sat in the priority seats now"

Good. Shame still seems to be a motivator here.

blobOfNeurons said...

That's the worst part about reserved seats. Sometimes they're just wide open but you don't want to sit down because then you have to spend the rest of the ride vigilantly examining the new passengers.

"Does that man count as old? Will he be insulted if I think he's old?"

So you end up standing.

It's worse on buses because, for the same reasons, nobody wants to sit but results in everybody standing in a crowded space.

Patrick Cowsill said...

"Interestingly, I have seen the "station attendants" encouraging people to do just that so perhaps I am missing something."

Interesting, Terry. How?

Readin said...

It's been about 20 years, but as a young man I learned some manners in Taipei. Having grown up taking the bus only to school and never using any other public transit, getting up for someone just wasn't something I though about. Then one day a beautiful young woman boarded the bus. Wow! To get a chance to talk to her or sit near her...Wow! As I was thinking along these lines an old woman boarded the bus. This beautiful girl got up and asked her to take the seat.

Here I was a man and had failed to stand up! I was doubly shamed - once for looking bad in front of a beautiful girl (no chance with her now) and once as for making foreigners look bad to everyone on the bus.

Ever since then I have paid attention and given up my seat when appropriate.

Patrick Cowsill said...

Interesting, Readin. I called a beautiful girl out for cutting in line for the MRT (brown line - Fushing and Nanking Stop). She told me to "shut up!" and she put her lungs to the expression as well. When I told her that her bad manners reflected on her parents, that they must be low class, the other people in the carriage started to laugh.

I told a guy not to cut in line for the elevator, again and again, until we arrived at his fifth-floor destination. The moment he got off, a beautiful girl burst out in laughter. That amused me so much that I also started to laugh too.