Train to Nowhere

Not the train I was on (photo by Cow Swill)

Now, those who know me best know I’m not one to whinge … but at the behest of someone who is, I’m posting this up.  

Saturday evening I jumped on the wrong train back from Miaoli to Zhunan and ended up embroiled in an ugly incident. Having squashed myself into prime position in front of the toilets at the end of carriage and confirmed, to the amusement of some old git who did not tire of reminding me of my mistake for the next five minutes, that the next stop was Xinzhu, I struck up as close as I could manage to a convo with a young Vietnamese lad.  

I ascertained that he was from Saigon, despite the paucity of his Mandarin, a failing that was ostentatiously and unceremoniously thrust before the entire carriage moments later, when a local who seemed to be some kind of broker for both the lad and an accompanying countrywoman began to berate him in as loud and hostile a manner as imaginable.  

As the central theme for this ritual public humiliation was the youngster’s lack of language skills, I worried that our brief, clumsy exchange may have had a hand to play in sparking the Taiwanese man’s tirade, which seemed only to increase in ferocity with each barb.  

“How long have you been here? And still not a word of Chinese,” he barked in Mandarin. “And Taiwanese? You don’t understand a word either,” he continued, this last sentence delivered in Taiwanese to underscore his point.  

With everyone jammed into the corridor looking sheepish but clearly put out by the ruckus this guy was creating, not to mention the visible humiliation he was subjecting this poor boy to, I moved out from the comfort of my toilet door and began, to use old London parlance, to screw the guy. I could tell he had noticed me but he didn’t really give a firm stare back, instead continuing his shouting.  

Eventually I had enough. “Hao la!” I shouted. “Enough!”  

He asked what business it was of mine. Bear in mind I’d had a couple. But during the exchange that took place, I told him he was a bully (欺善怕惡), aggressive (凶) and impolite (I don’t know a stronger word for rude – any suggestions gratefully received). Most of all I said he was being too loud and disturbing everyone.  

“I don’t see anyone saying anything but you,” he shot back.  

The applause from one fellow and congratulations I received from several individuals as we alighted told another story. Unfortunately no one was prepared to speak up. I can understand this as he was being extremely intimidating (at one stage he started to approach me but when I stepped toward him he thought better of it) but it is nonetheless a shame.   

The high (low?) point of the confrontation saw me, exasperated with his attempts to continue shouting the odds, call him an idiot.  

You could almost see the light-bulb flicker over his dim little bonce. “What was that?” he cried. “You all heard that. He called me an idiot. You’re not allowed to call me that, it’s against the law. I’m calling the police.”  

“But you’ve just been very rude and aggressive to this kid.”  

“Did I call him an idiot? Did you hear me use the word idiot? You’re coming to police station with me when we get to Xinzhu.”  

“You’re being really childish. Grow up.” (here I used a literal translation – 你需要長大 – which, while I’m certain it’s wrong, elicited a chuckle from a bystander).  

As we got off the train, he halfheartedly tried again: “C’mon. You’re coming with me.”  

Needless to say, I did no such thing, instead scarpering over to the platform back south, worked up but happy I’d called this bully out. 

Edit: I should add that this is not the first instance I have come across of a public dressing down for a “Tailao” (泰勞 – the blatantly pejorative but de rigueur catchall for migrant workers from Southeast Asia), though it was probably the most unpleasant. I cannot believe that those meting out such treatment would dare speak or act in this manner to their compatriots.

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