Archive for September, 2012

Work in Shanghai ended Friday afternoon.

Next stop:   Beijing, to test the Peking Duck and inspect the Great Wall and Forbidden City. We had tickets for the 9 o’clock bullet train leaving from HongQiao station.

The hotel concierge suggested we get a taxi at 7:30 am, allowing an hour to get to the train station.  With a 5:45 wake up call, we tried to allow time to dress, finish packing, have breakfast, and get to the taxi stand by 7:15, no problem.

And it worked fine.  We were at the stand at 7:18 am, and the bellboy asked for our tickets so he could tell the driver where to take us.  The ticket said ShangHai HongQiao station to Beijing South station in both Chinese and English, and the train was the G2 leaving at 0900.  The bellboy said something to the effect of, “This isn’t the right station.  I know where it is.” After the chaos of getting two giant suitcases and assorted small baggage loaded into the car in the rain, I asked, “Are we going to HongQiao station?” and he replied, “I know where it is.  Don’t worry.”

Those famous last words: “Don’t worry.”

We piled into the car, and with the bell boy’s instructions, our driver pulled into light traffic. Through the winding streets of Pudong (new Shanghai).  Through the tunnel under the Pu river.  Through the winding streets of Puxi (old Shanghai).  And we were at the train station by 7:45, very comfortably early.

The taxi driver loaded all our baggage onto a cart run by a pair of energetic boys who charged us 80 RMB to take the bags from the taxi drop into the station.  We followed them at a quick trot through car traffic, through foot traffic, up an escalator, across the square in a light rain, and to a place where they could study the huge electronic departure board outside the station.


They looked at me, and it took a moment to figure out what they wanted.   I handed them one ticket, and they looked, handed it back, looked at the board, conferred, waited for the board to update, studied it, looked at their watches, and conferred again.  I began to study the board, too.  No G2.  Maybe I didn’t understand the system.


They needed another look.  After another consultation with each other, one of them began explaining the situation to us. Unfortunately, his English was almost as limited as our Chinese.  Frantic hand signals.  Nancy asked, “Taxi?  Wrong station?”  Pointing to his watch, one of them shook his head saying, “No.”  Everything came into sharp focus when they grabbed our bags and began to RUN across the drizzly plaza to a subway station.

We were at the wrong station.

Taking a subway anywhere was going to be a challenge because we were not travelling light.  In addition to two large rolling suitcases, we had my heavy computer bag, my small camera bag, Nancy’s handbag, Nancy’s travel bag, and a heavy bulky package consisting of one silk duvet, one silk duvet cover, silk sheets, and three silk pillow cases—all extra-king sized.

Back into the rain at another quick trot, following our bags into the station, through the halls, down the escalators, through more halls, and to the entry turnstiles.  It was still not obvious what the official position of these guys was, and a variety of unpleasant possibilities began to play in my mind.  Given that the clock was ticking down toward our departure time, our options were painfully limited.

One of the guys materialized two subway tickets, used one, encouraged Nancy through the gate, and followed with her bag.  As the gate closed behind them, I had only one choice left.  The second ticked opened the gate, and I passed through.  We were irrevocably in the hands of the Travel Gods. The trailing guy shoved my bag under the gate, hoisted himself over it, and we all were RUNNING through the station again, dodging and weaving around busy commuters.  I cannot begin to express the anxiety that Nancy felt as I tried to encourage her to “have faith and enjoy the adventure.”  Yeah, right.

When we got to the train platform, “Money.”  Boy 1 asked for 400.  OK, S$80 ought to cover the cost of subway tickets and leave them plenty for their trouble.  Fine.  He took the money, motioned that Boy 2 would go with us, and disappeared.  Boy 2 stayed, wrestling both big bags and half our carry-ons.

Now we noticed the subway stations for this line were listed above the entry door.  Nothing even close to HongQiao.  The subway arrived, and Boy 2 and bags hopped aboard.  Of course we followed.  Nancy was beginning to look pale.  She was now aboard a crowded subway car, in a strange city in China, surrounded by people and signs with whom she cannot communicate, heading in some unknown direction, with a very good chance of missing our 5-hour trip to Beijing.  From her perspective, not good.

More hand signals between me and our guy, and I finally worked out that we were going to transfer to a different line at the third stop.  Nancy also does not like making subway connections in the best of conditions.  Our train stopped, we piled off, bags and all, and began RUNNING again, up one escalator, down a couple of halls, a pause while our boy worked out whether to go right, left, or down, another escalator, and onto a second subway.  With some great relief, I saw that this one ran to Hongqiao Train Station – all the way at the end of the line, one stop beyond Hongquiao Airport!  The clock began to tick even more loudly; it was now 8:10 am.  A trip to the airport in thirty minutes seemed very optimistic, and we had to go one stop further. The car sped along, door opening at a dozen stops, and arrived somewhere near our train station at 8:42 am.

Hongqiao Station is a big place.  Very big.  A major terminus for trains from all parts of China to Shanghai.  We RAN again.  Up more escalators, down more halls.  Our boy paused to look around, try to get his bearings, and off we went with him pulling both bags, smaller parcels balanced atop.  Tick, tick, tick.  He stopped at an information desk to ask for directions.  This way.  RUN.

8:46. Tick tick tick

He stopped at another information desk.  That way.  RUN.


Finally, we came to the transfer hall and saw the door for G2 at the far end of it.  RUN, dodging the crowd, through the door, and we finally saw the entry gate to our bullet train platform.


He typed a number into his cell phone to show me.  600.  Another S$120. Ow!

Sometimes, a graceful concession to the demands of the moment seems the best option.  It was 8:52.  This boy had managed to get us here in time, against all odds, with all our luggage.  In truth, he was asking for an outrageous payment, but I was grateful and didn’t have time to dicker, quibble, be outraged, or negotiate.  I paid. RMB, not dollars, but still a lot, even for the services rendered. He probably expected less than he asked, expecting me to haggle.  Sometimes, the role of the American businessman is to spoil the market.  I did.

He got us on the train, got our luggage put away, and got us settled into our seats by 8:57 am, at which point he waved and disappeared.

At exactly 9 am, the train pulled smoothly out of the station , as our heartbeats and breathing gradually returned  to normal.

Flying silently through Chinese countryside, the speed, prominently displayed in our car, vacillated between 300-315 km/hour.  That’s roughly 180 mph.

We pulled into Beijing South on time five hours later, primed to start our Beijing adventure.


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