Jinghong Chen

BEAUTY IN SUBWAY LIFE

In New York City, below the earth’s surface, “6,442 subway cars run daily to bring dependent New Yorkers to and from their destinations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week”(“Subway Life”) . However, to most of us, subway life is a journey we love to hate; it could be the most boring part of every day. You get up early, freshen up and rush to the subway station with a briefcase. It is dark and poky, crowded and bustling. Gazing at your own shoes, you follow the crowd going straight forward numbly. You complain in your mind: every day is the same; boring and stressful.

You complain because you still seek the beauty of life, while subway life seems have nothing of this. You know what beauty is, in general—the thing that gives you intense pleasure or satisfaction, inspires your curiosity, makes you exclaim with excitement and joy. You feel like you’re getting an electric shock; all of your senses come alive, making you uniquely aware of the world and of your own emotions. Unfortunately, life is full of routines and patterns that seem unbeautiful; and even worse, it deprives us of our ability to perceive beauty: “Often, with the all too hectic pace of life, we miss the beauty of many events because we are frantically rushing towards our next appointments.” (Curtis). Yet normal events are often extraordinary if we just stop and allow ourselves to experience them.

The moment I read Ezra Pound’s poem “In a Station of the Metro”—“the apparition of these faces in the crowd /Petals on a wet, black bough”—I caught sight of my own face in a picture, waiting behind the line, trotting along with the sharp roar of the coming metro. In a flash, I felt a sense of beauty of my own subway life that I’ve never realized and I decided to experience a different subway journey, opening my eyes and heart.

As an undergraduate studying in Nanjing University, walking through the long underground tunnel with the echoes was the real beginning of my subway life. Going up the stairs, I experience the smell of boiled corn and broiled cuttlefish as well as the huckstering from groups of vendors. I tried hard to resist temptation and was mixed with the crowd going into the subway station. Wandering about, the bookstore, café, boutique, snack stand, and the copy shop would come into view in order. Their different styles shaped a small world. The bookstore was an intellectual with a pair of glasses, the café was a poet, the boutique an urban girl, the snack stand my tender mother, the copy shop my diligent father. Across this small world, I fed the ticket machine and waited for her to give forth the round blue metro ticket, expressing her cordial welcome in response to my arrival.

Standing at the platform, I started to observe people around me. Then I realized that at different times of the year, the subway wore varied expressions. She submerged into a happy laughter and chatter during a semester. Small knots of youth buzzed excitedly by the waiting line, or stood in a semicircle to share stories and gossip. Along with the notice over the loudspeaker, crowds began to sway and move toward the door. As long as the subway zipped by, the platform was restored to tranquility, seeing off this group of passengers while waiting for the next.

Towards the end of the semester, the subway station returned to its busy work but with an eager look. The excitement of going back home spread smiles on the faces of students, even though they were embarrassed, awkwardly holding such heavy luggage. An air of warmth pervaded everywhere as the homeward journey began here—this small subway station. I recalled those days carrying my luggage, standing by the line and catching my shadow on the plate-glass door; we sometimes seemed reluctant to part.

Standing there, dizzied by memories I felt all the people I’ve known were around me, smiling, chatting, walking, or dreaming away, reminding me that I missed all the beauties of my subway life, as I scorned its ordinariness.

Every time you run fast, you feel exhausted to push your way through the crowd, upset about the long queue waiting for the train, glancing at your watch repeatedly worrying about being late—then you miss the beauty of subway life. Subway life is a destined meeting, though a meeting of transience. A ballad-singer playing the guitar, a young girl dressed in fashion holding a cup of coffee, a couple held each other tightly, a young mother talking to her little girl gently; the subway is not only made up of annoyances, but also of a variety people with stories. Thousands of people living in the same city but only particular ones meet you in this certain place at this certain moment, and at the next station, there still are other destined meetings awaiting you.

The subway station is a micro-society painted with passengers working, reading books, skimming newspapers, taking naps, talking on the phone, surfing on the Internet on an iPad or iPhone, even putting on make-up. Peddlers live in the subway. As soon as it rains, suddenly there appears someone selling umbrellas; when it gets colder, someone is selling gloves and scarves; as it gets hotter, someone is selling ice cream. Listening to peddlers bargaining with the customers is so interesting that you may have the impulse to come nearer and have a look. Beggars live their lives in subway; some sit squeezed up against the wall; some wander around the station with a dirty bowl; some stand still holding up a sign. Similarly, as the landscape changes with the seasons, so too one’s emotions change—you may feel sorry for them when you are in a good mood, or annoyed when you are in a bad mood. In this micro-society, people come in and go out of your life and enrich your life in some way.

Have you ever felt that subway life is a mirror reflecting human nature, which is lovelier and more real than any words? There is tremendous happiness in making others happy. Even though everyone walks fast, some people even run; on the escalator, people would still reserve the left side for them who need to pass by. On the platform, people line up in an orderly fashion waiting for the subway. Every passenger car makes the special seats for elderly and disabled people; from time to time, you could notice someone offers his seats to people in real need. The instant you observe these—the beauty of human nature—a smile will flicker across your lips.

Have you ever felt that subway life is a trip to variety? It is so liberating that “it takes you not only to your destination, but along with the way to another world” (Tharoor 1). Not just being a public vehicle any more, the subway is also a guide leading you to find a better and bountiful life. Traveling along with the subway, you could find the best snack bar, the most special dress shop, the hottest game center. You are liberated from your living area, and stepping towards a new world.

Subway life is a journey worth taking and enjoying. Bruce Davidson notes, in his photographic documentary Subway, that, “As our being is exposed, we confront our mortality, contemplate our destiny, and experience both the beauty and the beast” (Davidson 32). In this way, subway life is beautiful. However, the process of sensing its beauty with open eyes and heart is even more beautiful. You may prefer an adventurous life, experiencing new scenery, because it reminds you of the first time you fell in love and felt excited and sensitive yet meanwhile nervous. Finding the unfamiliar in the familiar shapes any day into an adventure. And the best part is your daily life is already unexpectedly charming, even beyond your imagination. All you have to do in return is to awake and notice the beauty there.

Works Cited

Curtis, Beth Leianne. “Awakening: Touching the Everyday Beauty of Life.” Natural Life, 2006. ProQuest Research Library. Web. 4 Nov, 2012.

Davidson, Bruce. Subway. Los Angeles: St. Ann’s Press, 2003. Print.

Pound, Ezra. “In a Station of the Metro.” Metro, htm. N.p., Web. 4 Nov, 2012.

“Subway Life.” Tumblr.com. N.p., 29 Jan 2011. Web. 4 Nov, 2012.

Tharoor, Shashi. “Letter from America: Notes From the Underground; Our Writer Reflects on the New York City Subway.” Newsweek. 27 Aug, 2001. ProQuest Research Library. Web. 4 Nov, 2012.