Last night I got on the subway to go visiting teaching. It was only three stops away, on the line I always ride, and so I didn’t have to be on edge, constantly watching the stops like I do if I’m going somewhere unfamiliar.

So I had the luxury of losing myself listening to a podcast. There are quite a few that I enjoy, some of my favorites being This American LifeHardcore HistoryFreakonomics and of course A Prairie Home Companion. Listening to Garrison Keillor’s soothing baritone voice is nice anywhere; doing it with headphones so you walk around in public chuckling under your breath is priceless. Doing this in China where a bunch of strangers are going to be staring at the only white girl on the subway no matter what just adds to the delicious incongruity of it all.

I listened to Garrison tell about another exploit from Darlene at the Chatterbox Café as I watched the subway stations tick by. But I let my thoughts drift a little as I looked around the inside of the subway car and started reading ads and posters. I was snapped out of my reverie and realized that I hadn’t been listening clearly to the last few sentences of the story. I pulled my iPod out of my pocket and swiped the screen awake. There’s a handy button on the podcast app that lets you go back 10 seconds; I pushed it three times. I started listening and, yes, this was around where I stopped paying attention.

Just as I was thinking this, the subway was nearing a station and slowing down. I tried to catch one of the moving signs outside to double-check that I knew which station we were at. It should be Shanghai Science and Technology Musuem, I thought, since we had already passed Century Park. But then, in the non-verbal weird logic part of my thoughts, I was remembering the skip-back-10-seconds button and was puzzled for a moment about whether or not I had skipped back to before Century Park. Yes – that’s probably right. I skipped back three times so that probably put me right before we had stopped at Century Park so we must be there again.

It only lasted for the briefest flash. As soon as I was able to articulate the thought to myself I realized how totally ridiculous it was. I had to give myself a condescending little comment – “the podcast button does not have an effect on real time or the movement of the subway, genius.”


I’ll leave you with a little video I took while waiting to cross the street outside the subway station. Asia’s big on skyscrapers that turn into light shows at night.


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