Thunderdome on the Shanghai Metro

It’s been a long stretch since my last post. Whether its been writers block or a dearth of good ideas, I’m ready to get off the schneid.

So I figured I would share a small nugget about living in Shanghai: what it’s like on the metro.

I have to preface this by coming clean that I’m an avowed NYC Subway person, for better or worse. It’s convenience can’t be matched and it has character (maybe sometimes too much). So I always view metro systems through my Subway prism.

In many areas Shanghai’s metro stacks up favorably. The system is new, clean, efficient, and reasonably well connected through the city (though not nearly as extensive as New York). When I ride the metro here I’m confident there won’t be any delays. And the numbering system for the exits makes it quite simple to navigate once you have made your way above ground.

However, it’s always packed, closes at 11pm and transfers between lines require half mile underground treks.

The persistent crowds have given rise to a metro etiquette that leaves every man, woman and child to him/herself.

When the train pulls into the station, passengers waiting on the platform are supposed to wait on the sides of the door so that departing passengers have a clear path to get off.

Instead what  happens all too frequently is that the waiting passengers come barging onto the train before anyone can get off; this turns getting off the train into a type of combat sport.

To adapt, I have taken to bracing myself as I get ready to get off the train. I lock my fists together with my elbows sticking out to give me a wide berth. I bend my knees to aid in agility. And then I brace myself for the onslaught, ready to discard oncoming passengers blocking my way like Ray Lewis tossing aside a fullback on his way to the ballcarrier. I’m telling you, there’s no laws in this place,  it’s like Thunderdome.

While the occasional person has rammed into me and been bounced off, I have, thankfully, yet to knock anyone down. Never did I imagine that I would look back nostalgically on the behavior of New York Subway passengers (although bonus points to the Shanghai metro for its lack of panhandlers).

Once you navigate your way off the train, you then have to make your way to the escalators/stairs. Luckily most Chinese people just take the escalators, leaving the stairs relatively free. But in all cases this area is always packed and the jostling for positioning continues.

Now if you have to transfer lines be prepared for a journey. The designers of the system did not do a great job in integrating the lines to easily facilitate transfers. There is no A train across the platform from the 1 train like you’d find in New York. Here, particularly at larger stations, it takes eons to go from one line to the next all the while you have to keep your wits about so you don’t bump into the hordes moving at lightning speed.

My final gripe, which I have exhausted in conversations with those around me, is why does the whole system shut down by 11pm? I understand demand is less later at night. But this is one of the largest cities in the world. Surely they can extend their metro hours to midnight or later. Is that too much to ask?

I have heard people speculate the early closing time is due to the influence of the taxi lobby (coincidentally the fares of taxis increase at 11pm). But isn’t this a country where the state is all powerful and positioned to omnisciently look out for the public welfare?

I’m sure my griping is a bit unfair. After all, give me two weeks of commuting on the NYC Subway and I’m sure my blood will start to boil. And at least it beats Manila.


4 Responses to Thunderdome on the Shanghai Metro

  1. danberstein says:

    So all of those meticulously cataloged workouts were preparation for these epic subway throwdowns… Which exercises contribute most to your success emerging from the “onslaught”?

  2. stuschis says:

    Hey Matt…Chicago’s subway system also has a lot to work on. If you don’t know the bus routes (or have Google Maps) you’re screwed and regardless of where you’re heading on the train you HAVE to head to the loop for a transfer. Wish we got the Olympic bid to modernize our inept transit system.

    • msus1 says:

      It’s a good thing you know the system so well. At least in Shanghai its easy to navigate but forget about the buses. I don’t even try that. That’s like Armageddon Squared.

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