Saturday, June 4, 2011
Getting Around China
April 27, 2011 Our first day in China was going to be a challenge. We wanted to see the town of Suzhou, which is 60 miles west of Shanghai, and we knew that we had to do it the first day there; since we were staying overnight on the ship and wouldn’t have to worry if we returned late. We found out before hand that only Chinese Yuan was going to be accepted on public transportation, so we exchanged money on the ship; just in case there was no ATM in the cruise terminal. (We found out later, that was a great decision.) We left the ship at 8:10AM with 6 - 100 Yuan bills in our pockets (about $100); so we stopped at what looked like a quick shop to buy a pack of gum and get change to use on the bus. After playing Charades with the store clerk, we learned that the “Bussah” costs 2 Yuan (38¢) per ride. Now, we tried to interpret where the bussah stop was. In China, it is rude to point with your finger; so people use their fist and thumb and wave in the direction they are indicating. That can be really confusing when several streets are going the same direction. But we were soon on bus 135 headed to the metro stop. All signs at the bus stops were in Chinese characters; so we really had to watch for street signs to know when to get off. We were so impressed with the modern, clean, graffiti-free bus and the metro station was no less impressive. A large bank of automatic ticket machines waited for us at the entrance. Thankfully, we saw on the touch screen that English was an option. We pressed the Shanghai Railway station as our destination. The screen asked for 4 Yuan and out popped our ticket. The underground waiting area was lined with large glass panels to keep people from falling into the tracks. The panels automatically opened when the metro arrived. Inside, the cars looked brand-new. We arrived at our final stop, walked upstairs and outside. Right in front of us was the Railway Station and inside was another bank of automatic ticket machines with English directions. We purchased the $14 Economy class ticket to Suzhou and walked into the train terminal. It looked like an airport with shops, restaurants and large waiting areas. We only waited about 15 minutes before our train arrived and went to our reserved seats. Wow! Reclining seats, magazines (in Chinese), overhead compartments, large windows, train attendants that looked like flight attendants, and a flat screen in front of the car that displayed the current time and speed. We took off exactly on time and were soon showing a speed of 335 km/hr (200 mph). No wonder they call them bullet trains. We arrived in Suzhou in less than 30 minutes. I’m not sure what we expected to see in China, but it wasn’t this. Everyone we met was helpful, smiling and well-dressed. Not one of them was like the unpleasant Chinese Embassy worker we had met in Chicago when we bought our Tourist Visas. Understanding Shanghai had been easy compared to Chicago.