Sunday, May 04, 2008

Civilizing citizens

I was going to fly from Xian back to Hong Kong. There were about 200 of us taking the same plane. The border control was quite efficient and courteous - the officer who stamped my passport actually smiled at me.

But there was only one X-ray machine for security check and they were quite thorough. I lined up in about 10th place. Five minutes later, I was still at 5th. The people lined up automatically. But the area between the border control and the security checking was quite small, so the line grew and twisted quickly into a snaking S shape.

Suddenly another team appeared to prepare to open a second station for security checking. A couple of men near the end of the line jumped quickly to the second station. The lady in white (bending over in this picture), who was at the second bend of the S and nearest to the second station, also jumped over. Amazingly, she did not join the second line but pulled the men back! She said loudly that it was not fair because there were lots of people ahead of them who had been waiting longer. Even more amazingly, the men got back in line without another word!

I was impressed. The quality of our Chinese citizens (at least some of them anyway) is surely improving.

Then a lady security officer announced the second counter was open. The lady in white asked her how we should line up for the two counters - obviously hoping the officer would make an equitable arrangement. To my surprise, the officer said she didn’t care.

It was like an invitation to riot. Pandemonium broke loose, the S-shaped line disintegrated, and people jostled for places in the ill-formed new line. They did sorted themselves out quickly though. This photo was taken after I got through the security check, with more than a hundred people still behind the security stations.

The two lines seemed to be no faster than the original one. When I boarded the plane a full half hour later, some people were still waiting in line.

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