Saturday, August 06, 2005

Shanghai Underground

I'm braving a typhoon right now, the first I've ever been caught in. Making it even more fun, I decided that would be a good opportunity to take the Subway across town to an Internet cafe I like, near the ancient Jing'an Temple - and next door to a Burger King.

The Shanghai Subway is my method of travel when possible. Sure a taxi is only a dollar or two (possibly three), but the subway is even cheaper, and is a good opportunity to scope people out. It's a work in progress - there's now only two underground lines and a BART-esque light rail, supposedly there'll be four more lines in the next five years. There's also a transfer to the magnetic-levitation train which takes you to the International airport at 270 miles/hour, or the train line.

The adventure begins with buying a ticket, which is quick and cheap. A yuan is about twelve cents, so the marked prices of 2 or 3 yuan really isn't much.

Inside the subway is a bunch of signs, some of them more helpful than the others. Trains come every four or five minutes - in this case 3:35 to the next train, then 7:53 until the train after that.

A sign pretty clearly marks which direction you're headed in. It's easy even if you don't speak a word of Chinese! Well almost. The signs translate select words into English ("Lu" into "Road"), when usually these words are just romanized, and most people (include taxi drivers) have no idea what the word "road" means.

And while I hate to resort to cheap shots, I'd really like to print the following sign on a shirt, or possibly make a bunch of posters and display them across town.

My favorite aspect of the subway is hard to photograph: rather than wait for people to get off and then get on, everybody tries to get off and get on at the same time. When there's a lot of people doing both, the two masses basically collapse into each other. It distinctly reminds you of the offensive and defensive line in football, right after the ball is snapped.

On most subways are LCD TVs which show advertisments and teach English idioms ("u-turn" or "on the rocks"), which is kind of fun. The scoping is hard to beat. My friend Emiko complained about the smell, but I don't think it's all that bad, especially in the larger scheme of Shanghai.

When you're off the subway, the adventure isn't quite finished. Some of the stations are huge, and the distance you walk to transfer between the two underground lines is absurd. Also, some of the stations empty into underground malls, or shopping centers.

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