A pants-less passenger checks out the reactions of the travelers around him. Photo: Cai Xianmin/GT
Johanna Hoopes (left), one of the organizers of the Shanghai event, stands in a metro carriage with a woman participant. Photo: Cai Xianmin/GT
Two of the participants play chess during their pants-less trip. Photo: Cai Xianmin/GT
A cheerful pants-free passenger talks with a happy senior next to him. Photo: Cai Xianmin/GT
On a cold winter Sunday afternoon a group of commuters boarded a Shanghai metro train at Jing'an Temple station. Like any other group of Western commuters they didn't stand out - except that soon after getting into the carriage they took their pants off.
The No Pants Subway Ride, a global event that takes place in cities around the world every year, happened in Shanghai for the first time last Sunday. The Shanghai ride was organized in conjunction with the popular expat Drunken Dragon Pub Crawl.
The first pants-free subway ride took place in New York 12 years ago. It was organized by Improv Everywhere, a New York touring improvisation group. "There is no agenda for the event apart from a desire to make others laugh and smile," Charlie Todd, one of the original pants-free riders and Improv Everywhere founder, told the Global Times.
The No Pants Subway Ride started as a small prank with just seven people and has grown into an annual international event. This year pantsless commuters appeared in Sydney, London, Berlin, Paris, Madrid, and Mexico City, among many other cities.
"Back in 2001, I was sitting on a bus heading upstate to visit a friend and it occurred to me how funny it would be if people entered a form of public transport at separate stops wearing (or not wearing) the same thing," said Todd. "A few months later I gave it a shot during the coldest week of the year, which was the funniest time to do it in my opinion."
Todd said that the idea behind the No Pants Subway Ride was simple: a random group of passengers boards a subway carriage at separate stops, all wearing normal winter wear - coats, hats, scarves and gloves. At some point during the ride, each of them stands up, takes off their pants and puts them in their bags. They behave as they don't know each other and continue their metro ride reading books or chatting on phones. Participant of all ages, races, backgrounds and underwear choices are welcome. The only thing they have to be able to do is keep a straight face.
"If someone asks, say you forgot your pants and it's a coincidence that others are also not wearing pants," Todd advised the brave riders. "Just be nice to everyone and act normal.
"It's just fun to do something out-of-the-ordinary," Todd told the Global Times. "I think many of the participants are not performers and would normally never do anything to draw attention to themselves in public. So it's a fun opportunity to do something a little different. It's fun to be a part of a big team of people all on the same silly page."
The Shanghai group met at the Jing'an Temple metro station and boarded a Line 2 train heading to Zhongshan Park. Most of the participants were men though seven women shrugged off their pants as well for the fun.
"This is such a fun thing to do," said Johanna Hoopes, one of the Shanghai organizers and one of the founders of the Drunken Dragon Pub Crawl. "We just wanted to do something different and make people laugh - that's the main point of the No Pants Subway Ride."
Hoopes said that most of the participants didn't know each other. "Apart from sharing a laugh or two, this was also a great way to meet some new friends."
This year the event took place in some 60 cities in 25 countries around the world. "The event has been growing every year," Todd said. "The year 2008 was the first time the event happened in other cities. There are always a couple of new cities each year now."
Todd said that last year's event in New York attracted 4,000 participants. "It's gone from 7 to 4,000. We do our best to keep it authentic and to have each car start with one person at the first stop and then another person at the second stop."
The organizers of the Shanghai event said they were not worried about getting in trouble with the police. "We're not trying to offend anyone - we just want to make people laugh," said Hoopes. "But if the police did come, we all had our pants in our bags so we could just put them back on.
"We got stared at a lot. But actually foreigners always get stared at in the metro in China, so this was nothing out of the ordinary really," she added laughing.
One of the Shanghai pants-less riders said that he had always wanted to take part in this event. "I have been following it in the media around the world over the past year but I have never lived in a city with a good subway before. This year was my chance to do it. I think it's just a nice way to spend your Sunday afternoon differently - riding the metro sans pants," he said and continued to read his Chinese textbook calmly while being stared at by the commuters around him.
Another pants-less commuter said that it was funny observing the reactions of the other passengers. "Some of them are stunned and keep staring at us, some of them change their seats if you sit next to them, and some of them don't even notice that there is something missing in our outfit," he said.
Although the weather was chilly, it didn't put the 30 or so no pants subway riders off. "It's a little bit cold but we'll survive," said Hoopes. Most of the riders had enjoyed some liquid courage before the ride started which might also have kept them warm.
The passengers around them didn't seem to mind sharing their journey with these eccentrics. "I think it's really funny," one said. "It just makes an ordinary day special and makes people laugh."
With the event's popularity increasing every year, Todd is optimistic about the future of the No Pants Subway Ride. "We always get great reactions as, no matter how big the event becomes, there are always people who are seeing it for the first time. Our goal is to make others laugh and smile and those are definitely the most common reactions."