Interesting thing happened last night on your correspondent’s Metro ride home in Shanghai. As usual for 6:15 on a Friday evening on Line 1 in Shanghai’s subway system, I stepped onto a train packed absolutely full of commuters, with just enough room for me to squeeze in by the doorway. At the next stop, as we waited for the doors to close, a rather rotund, smiling man wandered past, looking for somewhere to get on. He saw our entrance – already bursting at the seams – and stepped aboard, cheerily thanking the first few rows of people, who had to squeeze even closer together than they had been, and looked like they hadn’t invited him on in the first place. I told him to be careful (in Chinese), as he was still standing squarely on the line for the sliding doors, and he stepped forward and thanked me in English, adding "your Chinese is very good."
So far, nothing especially out of the ordinary. However, once the doors were closed and the train started moving, the man – whose entrance had already drawn some attention – launched into a prepared speech. In a pleasantly jovial but firm tone, he introduced himself as "Teacher Fat" (胖老师), and urged all aboard to search for his name on Baidu and join him in his fight against corruption at Baosteel ("China’s largest company," he said – though won’t it be overtaken in the steel sector by Hebei Steel?).
Once he was done (closing his remarks with a cheery "yea!" and flashing the V for victory), he repeated his speech in English, stressing this time that fighting corruption was a human-rights issue. He said, from memory, with apologies to the speaker: "We need to show everyone that there is no difference between foreign and Chinese. No difference between ladies and gentlemen. No difference between rich and poor. We need a peaceful, harmonious society, and fight corruption." He urged everyone on board to tell their friends, family, the media "about the fat man they saw in the subway." Dutifully, I snapped a close-range picture of Teacher Fat with my phone:
A number of onlookers had amused looks on their faces like the man on the left, as if it wasn’t registering that he was speaking about a passionate issue of importance to him. On the other hand, judging by the internet chatter I’ve since found on Teacher Fat (eg see here, in Chinese), it seems that he is quite the regular on Line 1. Perhaps the audience had seen this routine before (one person on a BBS said he’d seen him 100 times) and viewed him as little more than a little light entertainment on their otherwise dull-as-dust ride home. I know this is how similar types become regarded as colorful characters in other cities’ public transportation systems, but this was a first for me in China.
UPDATE: Click here for a video of the Chinese version of Teacher Fat’s spiel, including his cheerful sign-off. According to the link, he has served as an English teacher for the People’s Armed Police. The article mainly deals with his popularity among online commenters, with no mention of his railing against Baosteel.