Each line – each world

Writer: Simon Chiatante  |  Editor: Liu Minxia  |  From:   |  Updated: 2024-03-20

It’s a chilly mid-week morning, 8:30 a.m. In suit and a tie, carrying my leather handbag and in a pair of patent leather shoes, I was focused on the current projects, and ready to face the full rush hour. At least here, between the Longgang and Luohu areas, on Metro Line 3 heading towards the Futian area.

Can rush hour be relative? Of course, it is. In Shenzhen, there are different rush hours according to the kinds of businesses moving people, to their ages, whether they are retired, first lessons in school, first kindergarten classes, the direction of the Metro train, and especially, the stop. Every stop, each single transfer, and all the possible lines that intersect there, all the possible lives that crisscross through. 

Simon Chiatante

Here, in the middle of Line 3, depending on where you are headed and where you work, you may have to wake up earlier. Let’s say, get on the Metro an hour in advance of your usual time to avoid the crowds, unless you are one of those who like to observe, learn, and be inspired by what surrounds you! Residential areas such as this one offer a wider spectrum of personalities, goals, feelings, but this too, is a generalization.

Let’s say a worker gets on the subway at 7 a.m. Repair work is needed on the other end of the city. You may never know at which point you will meet him, which station he gets on and where he’ll transfer. He is there, cheerfully watching an old historical drama on his phone, easing the weariness that's yet to come, the speakers are slightly loud as he leans in a corner of the last car, on Line 6 directed to Guangming, far in the northwest of Shenzhen.

Right there, an old man at 9:30 a.m. with a red bag of tangerines in his hand is waiting for the Metro at Gongming Square Station. This area is a particularly lively one, that almost looks like another city in Guangdong, one of those growing big cities in the southwest of the province, where traditions are quite vibrant. While he waits for the train, he keeps staring at the station’s name written in calligraphy style. He may be a calligraphy teacher, or simply someone whose aesthetic sensibility for such art has always been a companion, as is the case with many from that generation. The Metro station is quite modern, but the name of it inside is outlined in a traditional calligraphy script, like in most Shenzhen Metro stations. 

A view of Lingzhi Station on Line 12. Sun Yuchen

Each Metro lines’ station names are rendered in a specific script. This definitely adds depth to the station’s identity, and one can’t help but wonder who was commissioned to come up with the station names? Chinese calligraphy requires execution with a clear mind, with the heart and brush flowing as one. In one single stroke, each Metro line and its stations have its unique identity and style, and they all connect different worlds. 

Lines 3 and 7 are represented by the so-called “running script,” a freer version of the “standard script,” allowing for a wider interpretation of feelings. It’s still simple and legible, elegant, while lines 1 and 4 showcase the same script but with thicker strokes, a more serious and rugged look, almost speaking out for the older establishment of these central city lines. Some of the newer lines such as lines 10 and 14, ironically are represented by the more ancient and spiritual “clerical script,” a style that expresses depth, but also intense simplicity, maybe conveying a return to a more essential reality. 

Passengers wait on a Metro Line 14 platform at Gangxia North Comprehensive Transport Hub in this file photo. Liu Xudong

These ones are the lines that connect the city center to the universities, and to the outer residential areas but with faster trains, for people who are more on-the-go, more practical, or busier. Lines where you can have a clearer impression of “future,” where you’ll have a sense of projection and exploration, the research that perhaps accompanies us all.

Always searching, but for what? We do not know yet, but that’s the lines we all ride after all.