City dweller or not, you’ve seen this. You’re on your way in some busy place, doing those important things you do. You’re walking on your side of the sidewalk or corridor or what have you. Most people are doing the same. But then, what’s this? Along comes an individual, a woman more often than not, with her lovely face not up and confidently facing the world, but buried in the screen of her smartphone. And, oh dear, she’s walking the opposite way, on your side! She’s getting closer. She still hasn’t looked up. She’ll look up. She’ll look up. She’s not looking up. She’s right in front of you. Being a gentleman, you move out of her way at the last second. You look back. She hasn’t looked up and others are moving for her, too. Your blood pressure rises a little. Something’s wrong here.
Later on in the day, something really incredible takes place. A truly mindblowing spectacle. You’re in another busy place and you come across yet another soul with electric appendages, navigating the hordes while watching a movie. Earbuds and all. Then, he stops dead in his tracks, all sorts of people around and behind him, to look up in his comfortable oblivion to decide if he wants to take the stairs or the escalator. The escalator, naturally. Somebody get this guy some popcorn.
It is not my intention to pick on the Chinese. This is a global epidemic. However, China being the most populous country on Earth with some of the most densely populated cities that have ever existed, anything having to do with warm bodies is necessarily amplified. China is also a place with an acute lack of sense of order. Chinese driving produces the longest and hardest of face palms, and walking the streets of a Chinese city has brought big strong men to their knees in frustration and bewilderment. I once chucked a water bottle cap at a man who answered his phone in a movie theater in Beijing and directed him outside (a woman answered her phone less than 5 minutes later). To throw in the phenomenon of using your phone or tablet at the same time you are walking in a busy space is enough to forever turn one into a moonburned hermit.
I chuckle at the cuteness of newly arrived foreigners who tell themselves, “oh wow! There’s so much energy here! A little crowded but hey, it’s cool. It’s a different culture. I can adapt!” I was this bright eyed and bushy tailed once, too. I have now devised my own version of bowling. People bowling. Bowling-for-texting-while-walkingers, if you will. I’m open to suggestions for more catchy names. Here are the rules:
1. The punishment must fit the crime. This is a contact sport, but being overly violent gets you expelled from the league. These people are annoying to no end, but that does not justify hurting them. The point is to jolt them into awareness. If you come across one of these people (which in Beijing happens, no exaggeration, at least 10 times a day and up to once every 3 seconds), you hereby do not have to move out of their way. You may bump them. You can even lean into it a little.
2. Do not apologize. It’s best to keep walking. You can give the stink eye if you like. If they give you lip, such as, “hey! watch it buddy!” Stop and wait a few seconds. Collect yourself. Stroll up to them calmly and look them in the eye and casually say, “I was. You weren’t.”
3. Clapping is an alternative move for extra points. When in a bowling situation, instead of the bump, you may do one clap as loud as you can in front of the offender’s face. Remember, no gratuitous violence. It’s best to continue walking. If they give you lip in this case, see Rule 2 but this time say, “it’s better than a bus, isn’t it?”
4. Do not start fights. If someone wants to fight you, only employ self defense measures. But by all means fight back.
5. Under no circumstances is this game to be played while driving any type of vehicle. Let the police deal with the geniuses who text while driving.
There are some exceptions. Pregnant women, the severely injured, the disabled, the (actually, clinically) mentally retarded and the elderly should not be bumped. Everyone between the ages of 15 and 65, male and female, are fair game. It’s open season for texting-while-walkingers. Use good judgement in your bowling. Naturally, women should not be bumped as hard as men. But we are good citizens and stand for equality and fairness, so they should be included. And, a recent mental study conducted by myself has shown that women are over represented in phone abuse cases. The science is settled. 100% of me agrees so don’t question the consensus. Educate yourself LOL. Sometimes a gentle sweep of the arm to move the perp out of the way will suffice. Those who are talking on the phone while walking, but are otherwise paying attention and moving along, get a pass. Likewise those wearing headphones or earbuds but are generally aware of what’s going on.
“Whoa dude, this is totally rude. How can you do this?” Perhaps it is. I have indeed watched myself turn into a much ruder person while living in Beijing. But spend longer than one second thinking about it. There are millions of people out there who expect people to cater to them and move out of their way while they disregard their surroundings, and sometimes even their and others’ safety. This is immeasurably ruder, dude.
If you find yourself the pin in a people bowling game, take the hint that you are doing something wrong. I’d give you some guidelines on how to improve your behavior, but you’re big boys and girls. Figure it out. And no, it’s not about you being in my way, it’s about you being in the way. This worldwide disease must be cured. Government regulation will not help. Consistent social opprobrium will. Put the phone down and pay attention. Please.