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March 28, 2024

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The ‘basket special’ metro: All honest labor deserves respect

A metro line in Chongqing is so crammed with elderly vegetable sellers at certain times that it is nicknamed beilou zhuanxian, or basket special.

While vegetables are transported in various containers such as bamboo baskets carried on sellers’ backs, poled on shoulders or pulled on small wheeled carts, the beilou (large bamboo baskets carried on one’s back) represent the more traditional mode of conveyance in this expansive and mountainous municipality.

Such beilou could be easily stigmatized in any city in the fervor to craft an immaculately modernized image substantiated by technology, gentrification and speed.

Thus it came as no surprise that some people are already agitating online for local metro management to institute stricter control by barring passengers encumbered with large containers during rush hours, for the containers, taking up much space in the limited area within a metro car, can obstruct the passage of other passengers, or even damage public transport facilities.

Dignified and high-sounding rationalization, but “No!” was the response from the metro authority.

The Chongqing metro authority argued that, so long as the passengers’ behavior and their luggage comply with stated regulations, the metro authority will refrain from any intervention.

They went on to address the concerns implicit in such complaints, by adding that in any case of metro cars being contaminated by the smell or liquid emanating from vegetables, affected passengers could call to notify the authority, and designated cleaners and metro staff would rush to the scene for any clean-up needed.

A few words of explanation seem in place for the evolution of this “basket special.”

When Phase II of Metro Line 4 was launched in June 2022, it was a 33-km long line connecting Shichuan Town to the downtown area.

Local farmers used to sell their farm produce locally, but the new metro line was a game changer, allowing them to sell in downtown areas now at higher prices and with increased speed.

To facilitate the passage of these special passengers encumbered with heavy bags, the metro check-ins at some stations opened five minutes earlier, and the metro staff at the station were ready to help the farmers use the escalators, or conduct security checks with hand-held metal detectors, so as to minimize the obstruction they might pose to fellow passengers.

This makes it easier, but still hard work, for the farmers. For instance, it took Ye Shanju 40 minutes of plodding with a 35-40kg basket of tangerines from her home, just to catch the first metro service.

Since those aged 65 and above can use the metro for free, the metro not only saves time, but also money. According to Feng, in his 80’s, he and his wife used to arrive downtown by taking several buses — a journey taking more than an hour. With the metro, the journey time was halved, and it took less than three hours for the couple to sell all their produce.

There has been much hype about the metro as state-of-art transportation flattering the image of a major city, but closer scrutiny shows that, essentially, the metro was created to facilitate those making a livelihood.

All honest laborers deserve our respect, not in the least the likes of the Feng couple who, at over 80, are still supporting themselves through humble labor.


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