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  • Luis Matte Diaz

The passengers of their youth

It is not rare to have been a passenger in the endless metro lines that spread among the city's underground in Shanghai. Throughout the trip that you want to complete, many things pass by in a matter of seconds. Other passengers remain with you for just one station. Many broadcasting instructions immediately slip by your ears. Nothing lasts for more than seconds.

If we do the exercise of paying attention, not using our phones, not even listening to music, time seems to slow down. The time from one station to the other would prolong itself far beyond when you are distracted.

Doing so, the advertisement inside the subway tunnel caught my attention. There we can see many images put together next to each other. Every single image of the sequence is just a few details changed. The number of images and the train's speed were meticulously calculated to fool your brain and give passengers the sensation that they are watching a video.

Line 7 Shanghai Metro, taken by Emcc83. Provided by Wikimedia Commons. 24/01/2010

Based on an old philosophical debate, the latter made me think of 'the whole or the parts.' Let us put it in simple words. If we just surrender to the mirage of the images, we see publicity as a video giving us a message. However, if we could stop the train and focus on only one shot, only this mere element of a sequence is by itself full of details as well. All the pixels, colors, and high-definition light systems that one of these images has would be worth our deep analysis. But, since that is not the idea of our friendly companies wanting to sell us their products, our mind only takes the whole, due to the velocity of the encounter and our lack of time and willingness to pay real attention.

All this sort of spell that we suffer every time we take the subway can be broken by the mere act of stepping out from the train, getting away in the station that you wanted, and starting, once again, walking in the street. In short, the spell can be broken by stepping out and stopping the fast train, both literally and metaphorically speaking.

Empty Illuminated Subway Tunnel. Provided

Now, I invite you to do the same, stop for a moment and breathe because I will draws parallels between the latter and the following. It could seem a bit detached from the previous discourse. But keep in mind that by taking image by image, we would not miss any detail.

I have been a passenger in many educational institutions, being a teacher in my country, and almost three years now in China. Indeed, I have only been affiliated to high-class educational institutions in China. However, even more specifically, the following experience is about the so-called "boarding schools."

At the end of the term, I decided to have a meal in the school's canteen with two of my around-10-year-old Shanghainese students. During our dinner time, I started asking them some questions. Basically, how was the experience of being in a boarding school, mainly how they felt living in the school from Monday to Friday and how everything works out? In a very casual way, since this experience is trivial for them, they told me they could call their parents on the phone, for around 30 minutes each Tuesday and Thursday after dinner. The teachers would give them a cellphone, to call their mothers most of the time. Since I did not want to put ideas in their heads, I refrained from commenting and just continued asking. Naturally, the next question would be: What about your weekends?

Basically, they study until 4.30 p.m. on Friday, and then someone would pick them up from school, and they would go back to their homes. It is important to remark that 4.30 p.m. is actually a blessing if you consider that these kids end their last classes around 8 p.m. from Monday to Thursday. I know that for a fact because the kind of classes that I give them is provided by an outsourcing educational company, and I have one lesson that starts at 7 p.m. and finishes at 8.15 p.m., and only then, do the tiny children would finally get to go home and sleep.

What I heard about their weekends shocked me quite profoundly. They go to bed very early on Friday because they need to wake up early in the morning and prepare themselves for more extra classes on Saturday. One of the kids told me: “Can you believe I even have yo-yo lessons on Saturdays?”


Actually, those yo-yo classes were the least of their problems. For the two students, these are all the classes that they have in just one Saturday: football, yo-yo, Japanese, English, Chinese, robotics, and math. Again, the school teaches them many hours of English and provides them with German classes. Therefore, adding Japanese on Saturdays…. just judge by yourself.

After the exhausting day, they finally get home, and then they have dinner, where they can see their fathers, nonetheless, not for too long because on Sunday, they need to wake up early again. Finally, reaching Sunday, they need to do the homework—godspeed—because a new week is to come, the time at home is over, and in the afternoon their mothers will bring them back to school.

These kids are bombed with information in a non-stop sequence, with CEO timetables impossible to bear for anybody, especially if you are only 10 years old. I wonder, is this working? Or perhaps these kids do not have the time to break the spell and the mirage of what they are supposedly learning?

These children are a passenger of their own lives, the passengers of their youth, without time for breaking the spell of the speed train of thoughts. Never stopping and checking the details of what they learn and how they evolve into adults. Actually, it could happen when you fall asleep in the subway. A shocking waking up, a run towards the gates before they close, and when you leave the metro station, you suddenly realize that now there is no sunlight and you are in a totally different place.

Most probably, they would experience the same thing with their youth, waking up at 18 (if they do not go straight ahead to colleagues) and ask themselves: Where the hell was I, where the hell did I spend my youth, who the hell am I? Why could I never step out from the train?

* School Clip Art. Provided by 03/01/2022


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