My first attempt at going to Shanghai from Beijing didn’t go very well. I went to the main train station to buy my ticket as I couldn’t figure out the all-Mandarin ticket sales website. At the ticket office, I handed over my piece of paper indicating where I wanted to go, which train, and at what time. With the help of some nice people in the line behind me, I got my ticket.
I went back to my hostel to say my goodbyes and began packing. The next morning I left to get on the subway and discovered that I should have left a long long time ago: It was rush hour in one of the most populous cities in the world, and I had only one hour to travel several miles to the train station. I waited at the subway platform patiently. A train was arriving every 30 to 60 seconds so I wasn’t worried yet. The first train seemed too full to even bother with so I did as I had learned in other cities and “waited for the next empty one”. The next one arrived practically as the previous one was leaving.
Well, it wasn’t better and was in fact much worse. I watched in amazement as the people lined up at the door, waited for a few people to exit, and miraculously doubled the number of people on the already packed train. The station was reasonably empty at this point, but by the time the next train arrived I realized that this was to be the way of things. Each train was fuller than the last, and my time was ticking away. I molded myself against the group of people at the doorway of the next train but didn’t see any way I could get on. Again I waited for the next train.
I was beginning to learn. I took off my backpack and readied myself at the front of the crowd. As the next train’s doors opened I put my head down and inserted myself my rear still halfway outside the doors. The force from outside the train came in waves and room was slowly created. I tried to say “对不起” (I’m sorry, excuse me) even though I knew my pronunciation was terrible. I felt a pressure behind me as more people struggled to enter the same train. Suddenly, I was in.
When the doors finally closed and the train began to move, everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief and repositioned themselves. Even if I could have moved my arm, I didn’t want to look at my watch as I knew this process had taken too long. I ended up arriving at the station two or three minutes too late. The train was still there, but the gate was closed. Fortunately, the nearby ticket agent was able to reschedule me for the next train the following day. I headed back to the hostel somewhat defeated but ready to try the process again the next day.