On the move; Getting around in China...
Trip Start Jul 01, 2011
19Trip End Jul 16, 2011
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Where I stayed
My house in Kalamazoo
What I did
At my house, writing like a mad man....
While I was in China, I was predominately in very urban settings: Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Shaoxing. During the first week of my stay in Beijing, everything was so centrally located; I never really had to use any kind of public transport to get my needs met. I could walk to the grocery store (or even just down to the commissary in our building), I could venture out and in 3-5 minutes on foot, go shopping, eat in a restaurant, go to the movies, etc. This makes life in the major metropolitan areas much easier in many ways for the young and old alike. For example, many people I talked to in China go to the grocery market every day, rather than once a week (or once a month in my case) because they like to go and see what fruit, meat or vegetable, etc. looks the freshest on any given day. Staying in Central Beijing, by BLCU was ridiculously convenient and extremely exciting as well, but you really do have to live in big city to have everything so close by
There were also many times in Beijing that I was out alone, or with friends and we needed to take a cab. Taking a taxi in any big city is a crazy rigmarole of signals and gesticulations, but in Beijing, it was very difficult indeed. Taxis very often were full and when they were free (with a little red light inside to indicate), they would often not stop just because we were foreigners, or some other arbitrary reason unbeknownst to us. Many times a cab driver would stop, hear the destination that we wanted to go to and say that it was either too close (not going to get them enough of a fare) or too far away (take them too far off of their route). In any event, it was not uncommon to take at least a half an hour every time we wanted to procure a cab. This was also often the most expensive way to travel, but I never paid more than $100 RMB (roughly $15 dollars) for a ride in a taxi and those rides were usually between half an hour to an hour long at that. I'm sure that kind of cab ride in the states might even cost you close to $100 in some places. The cab drivers in China are usually very friendly and talkative, all the while, driving so fast, you literally fear for your life. I always just tried to remember that most of them I encountered were in the 30s-60s and had been at it a long time (which I'm assuming means they’ve lived through many years of driving a cab). I eventually learned to just put my fate in their hands and enjoy the excitement of the ride. Here’s a few stats on how many cars and drivers, etc. there are in Beijing.
"A quickie update on the road situation: it's not optimistic by any count. (How appropriate, posting this from the CBD, traffic hell heaven...)
Through to June 29, 2010..
• 4.36 million cars in total
• 5.974 million drivers, all in all
No surprise when you think about it: with the number plates scheme still in place (that's one day out per car every week; as in your car gets a mandatory one day break once a week), some of us have the extra bucks for a second car. Plus there are still all those rental cars and taxis...
Although if you don't take these into account, you might think that we're über-rich. How could this stand? As in: more drivers than taxis!
Just last week alone...
• 15,000 new cars (basically 2,142 a day)
• 9,000 new drivers (basically 1,285 a day)
One of the things that I think most Americans would initially be shocked by is the abhorrent way Chinese people drive
"With both production and sales exceeding 13 million units, China surpassed the US as the largest auto manufacturing and consuming country in the world last year
When will China have as many vehicles on the road as the current U.S.? China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology recently estimates that there will be over 200 million registered vehicles in the country in 2020." (http://chinaautoweb.com/2010/09/how-many-cars-are-there-in-china/)
Another matter that further complicates the driving and the congestion, is the level of construction that is happening everywhere, all over China. It's easy to see that China's economy is getting too big for it's britches and residential and commercial development is everywhere. China currently uses 1/3 of the world's steel and half of the world's concrete every year.
"China will overtake the United States as the world's largest construction market by 2018, according to a forecast by Global Construction Perspectives and Oxford Economics on Thursday. The report said, in just 10 years, China's already massive construction market will be worth almost 2.4 trillion U.S. dollar and represent 19.1 percent of global construction outputhttp://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90001/90778/90860/6811992.html)
Still, the most popular form of transportation is China is still easily the bicycle. There are everywhere and flying around in all directions.
“There are 14 million workers in Bejing (well, in 2000) anyway. And Chinese stats indicate that 20% of commuters use a bicycle to get to work. So, considering that China is by far the largest producer of bicycles worldwide and it is estimated that there are 420 million bicycles in China alone (and 50 million electric ones). Considering that many people will probably own a bike in Bejing and not use it to get to work - and there will be many bikes that aren't used, or are on sale - it's pretty feasible that there are at least 9 million bicycles in China... “
There are so many bikes in China, often time whizzing by you, almost running into you, all the while ringing their little bell or honking their obnoxious horns. After walking for about 20 hours in the first few days of being Beijing, I started to see why renting or even owning a bike is darn good idea
Most of the time that we needed to get from point A to point B, our group was fortunate enough to travel by bus, and this was always the most posh way to travel. Having a group of only around 20 people or so, having a whole bus to ourselves to stretch out on, with air conditioning, was surely the envy of many who saw us. Not that we were an anomaly, far from it. There were many buses, especially when would travel to large tourist attractions: The Great Wall, The Forbidden City, The Beijing Opera, etc. were always festooned with many tour buses on bringing Westerners, Chinese student tour groups, Chinese senior citizen groups, etc. as far as the eye could see.
The times that I did use the public transportation in Beijing, I got a full dose of how a typical Beijinger gets around without the use of anything other than their own two feet and good old fashioned smarts and know how. When I had the good fortune of traveling to see the Bird’s Nest and the Watercube, my friend Xiaolei and I used the subway for about an hour to get from BLCU to those attractions. I was very surprised at how clean and well organized the Beijing and Shanghai subways were. Although they are at times crowded, passengers are usually very friendly and will give up their seat to someone who is elderly or with child (of course, there are signs on the subway that say to do this). The subways are usually quite comfortable, having air conditioning and a well illuminated sign in each car saying where you are currently, at and what the next station is! I was also surprised to see TV’s down in the subway station that not only had commercials, but showed you how many minutes until the next train was arriving. There were also advertisements that streamed by outside the subway window, that told a time lapse story. This might sound really rudimentary to most city dwellers, but to a country boy like me, I was mighty impressed by the subways of Beijing and Shanghai. I also got to the ride the bus a couple of times and that was like riding the bus anywhere I suppose: hot and crowded and taking way longer than you think it would/should. All of our friends from USC got the experience of riding on the train from Beijing to Hangzhou (15 hours), but we three from WMU, took to the skies and choose Shanghai Airlines as our mode of transport to fly to Shaoxing. This choice was forced upon us, because our group was sort of spliced onto the USC group and our accommodations had to be made a little later than theirs.
We had to pay 1000 RMB (about $150 for our planes tickets) and it felt like a bit of a travel agency scam. However, two hours in a plane, beats the socks off of 15 hours in a train, so I was happy with the way things turned out. Also, I found the airline to be first rate and I got to learn a bit more about being a novelty in China. We were the only Westerners on the flight and many Chinese stopped to gawk at us and ponder why we were on the plane in the first place. I of course enjoy the attention and was cordial and spoke to few people around me. I was surprised to see more male stewards than stewardesses on our flight and it finally struck me as to why. Most of the men, when I looked a little closer, had firearms on their belts (some kind of Chinese air marshal, rather than a steward). There will be no terrorist high jacking on a Chinese airline, at least not on the Shanghai Airlines flight anyway.
Other than the aforementioned modes of transport, that’s all I did. I never tried the rickshaws because, weighing in at 225 lbs., I’d feel guilty for anybody trying to haul my big arse around like that. I of course never tried the bikes or Moto scooters, even though I sure tried to rent one. When in Rome, do as the Romans do and while I was in China, I did as the Chinese do and that also means to do a lot of walking. It’s no small wonder that I really never saw anyone corpulent, not to mention even slightly resembling gravely obese in China. Whether it’s the diet, walking, lifestyle or something in the water that no one will drink without boiling, Chinese people have found a bit of a fountain of youth and guess what? (it’s an ancient Chinese secret). http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/01/opinion/01kristof.html?_r=1