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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Day 3 - The Subway

Today, I'd like to tell you about the Subway. No, I don't mean the sandwich shop (I am told it tastes exactly the same in Shanghai as the US, and this frightens me). No, I mean the mass transportation system that is 100% on time. Consider the number of people in Shanghai: 22 Million. Consider how people get to work on time. The Subway here is amazing - it's very organized and well documented. It's still confusing as hell the first time or two, but it does the job well.

Yesterday, Jingjun and I took the subway to work. It's the main leg of my journey to the office, which goes like this. Exit the hotel, go down the street, then up into an elevated area to cross a murderous street. Then down again near a park where people do some form of thai chi in the morning and finally to the subway entrance across from Jing'an Temple. Down the temple into the frenzy.
First you have to use a machine to purchase a ticket (actually a magnetic card like a Visa). It's 4 RMB, about 65 cents. You grab the card and your change then head toward the entrance. If you have a bag it goes through a weapons detector x-ray scanner. Then you head deeper to where the subway cars lie. You have to know which line you are on (I am on #2 - green) and you go line up, making sure you going the right direction (away from the airport). There's already a gazillion people weaving in and out of your space, in some weird semblance of order and chaos.

You queue up right in front of one of the doors, and every 2-3 minutes a car arrives. You simultaneously enter/exit with about 40 people at once. You cannot be shy. This morning, I took the whole route myself and you just have to push your way in. I left a little early (8:15) and hit rush hour head on. Not my brightest move. 2 stops from my entrace is People's Square and it's a transfer station. A crazy amount of people got on and crammed their way into the train. At this point, I had at least 6 people crammed onto me. Fortunately, in Shanghai I am fairly tall. I had a young woman with her shoulder in my armpit (I was reaching up to hold the stabilizer bar so I wouldn't fall when the car starts), a dude with his belly touching mine, another guy angled into the side of my face. He was reading a newspaper of all things, and he angled his head so it was about an inch and a half from my face. He shampooed this morning. Several other people behind me were smashed into me. I wanted to take a picture so bad but my phone was in my pocket and I couldn't move my arms without knocking teeth/eyes/noses out. No one looks each other in the eye, either. It's like this bizarre mass of bodies but all trying to ignore each other. No one touches you more than they are forced to.

After a couple of stops, it thinned out slightly (still overcrowded by US standards). I was able to breathe again. You have to be strategic when you know your exit is coming up. The car itself would stand 5-6 people side by side in width. So, when you have to push through 40 people in this space to get to the door, you better be closer toward your stop or be prepared to push and pull people forcibly. There's this weird little dance that happens in the microsecond after the doors open, people get out and just before more people manage to get in - everyone shifts position in a bizarre shuffle to get closer or further depending on the nearness of their stop.

So it was warm and drizzly today. It got to 70 for some reason. I was in hell - basically steaming all day from all the walking in the humidity (it is annoyingly reminiscent of San Antonio summer) then the poor A/C because it was JUST in that temperature zone where the A/C didn't want to come on but it was just simply way too hot.

On the way back to the hotel, I went back down to the subway and crammed my way in. At People's Square (again), some wise guy was shoving people on the subway and shouting something. A lot of people were laughing, so I think it was a practical joke of some sort, but it was like packing sardines in. I remember this one young lady whose face was forced close to some dude's armpit. One expression I recognize here - disgust! I didn't get close enough to the door so went one extra stop up. I crossed the terminal rapidly and walked right into a much emptier train car as it opened right before me. Whew!

It was raining pretty good when I left the station and trudged 10 minutes home. The smells of local cooking on the street corner, the people clearing their throats and spitting because apparently it's good luck when they see a foreigner, the sound and smell of the rain, me steaming slightly into the night and hurrying home through the rain... according to Jingjun, I am having the true experience of Shanghai.

1 comment:

Jen said...

As long as they don't spit ON you, I call that a good day. Loving reading about your experiences!