Adventures in Asia

by Greg & Francie

Queueing – Chinese Style

This morning at the Lhasa airport, Greg and I had a classic experience trying to check in for our flight. As much as I have fallen in love with China, one thing I will not miss is the challenges of waiting in long lines.

Here’s what happened: A tour guide was in line a few people in front of us with the ID’s of all 20 or so of his tour group members. As soon as he got to the counter, and the others in line realized that he was going to stand there and checkin 20 people, they started surging forward and trying to get ahead. Greg and I did our practiced routine of standing in a semi-circle shape and using our arms to prevent people from getting in front of us (that sounds extreme but it is a basic necessity!). After the “surge” happened, all the tour group members that had bags to check started trying to edge their way past everyone (using their baggage carts) to get to the counter. At this point a guy in front of us started arguing with the tour guide guy and within a few seconds they were in each others faces, another guy was trying to hold one of them back, and then a few seconds after that there were 2 security guards trying to break it up, but they had trouble because the line (or rather the mass of people) was so tightly packed at this point that it was difficult to push through. Finally however, the guy stormed off and everyone else started trying to get ahead in line once again.

Realizing what mess it was going to be trying to check in the bags of 20 people that weren’t actually able to get up to the counter, the airline employee decided to open a counter about 30 feet away to also check in for our flight. Greg and I ran over there only to be stuck behind a bunch of people that got their first. We were rather frustrated because we had already been waiting in the other line for almost 30 minutes. I managed to edge my way in front of a few people through physical force. By the way, I think foreigners are targeted by line cutters simply because they usually aren’t comfortable with physically pushing someone out of the way! I’ve gotten used to it by now…

So we finally get to the counter and I’m waiting for the employee to finish typing so I can hand her our passports. A guy on my right tries to extend his hand with his id card further than mine so that the airline employee will grab his next and check him in. So I hold our passports even further out until the employee indicates to me that she sees that I am first. Ha. Then another tour guide holding about 10 id’s shows up on my left, seemingly from nowhere, pushes me aside and tries to hand the ID’s to the employee. I was very frustrated by now but I think Greg was just laughing to himself. I yelled at this guy something in Chinese that I can’t remember and pushed his arm back. He looked at me like I was crazy, as if he had been in front of me in line the whole time. I stepped in front of him to block him from the counter and at that point he realized I was serious and gave up. A minute or so later the employee finally grabbed our passports and we were saved from the rising tide. 🙂

On a related note, Beijing is apparently having a monthly “Queueing Day” in order to prepare for the Olympics. On this day Beijing residents are supposed to practice orderly queuing. I wonder if it will help? 😉


September 11, 2007 - Posted by | China, Travel


  1. […] air pollution but I cannot possibily express how much this drives me crazy so I will refer you to Francie’s post on the subject. I do want to say that, while I like the monthly practice Queue day that Beijing is having for the […]

    Pingback by 5 Things I Loved and Hated about China « Adventures in Asia | September 11, 2007 | Reply

  2. Ha! I HATED this leg of my trip to Asia! Many moons ago, I flew China Air to Taiwan on a flight of mainlanders. Never have I seen such surging, shoving, and jostling. To get on a plane. With assigned seats. Plastic bags swatting everyone.

    Comment by Weezie | September 12, 2007 | Reply

  3. Jill and I had similar line battles in India – They often queue there, but frequently people cut the entire line. With the population there, places like airports are disasters (It took us about an hour just to *get in* the Delhi airport for our flight home).

    Great stories – this blog rocks.

    Comment by Scott Berkun | September 12, 2007 | Reply

  4. Continueing on from Scott’s post…See “cutting in line” section of this blog entry for the full details:!6C250277017309EE!310.entry

    Comment by jill | September 12, 2007 | Reply

  5. holy cow! sounds like lines in India are just as chaotic or more so than China.

    Comment by francie | September 12, 2007 | Reply

  6. Got to agree with you on this one, Francie! That has to be the most annoying trait around. Not the side of human nature you ever want to be exposed to.

    Comment by GDG | September 13, 2007 | Reply

  7. Thanks for sharing all your great pictures and comments! Your travels look amazing! I googled “horseback sichuan” and found your site. My family is planning a 3-4 week trip in SW China next year. We’ll be in Guangxi and Yunnan for sure, and we have been trying to work out how to get to Tibet, but I think now we may switch our plans to visit northern Sichuan instead. Good luck to you!

    Comment by Erik Metzler | December 1, 2007 | Reply

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