I didn’t plan my trip to Hangzhou so much as decide, “that sounds nice” and do it. At 11:30 on Sunday night I booked the cheapest flight I could find to Shanghai’s Hongqiao airport and with the help of Google found some information about getting from Shanghai to Hangzhou by train. After my class the next morning I ran home to pack (my one bag), which didn’t go well. I’m the kind of traveler who needs to have everything laid out in neat piles with little color-coded post-its on them so that nothing’s forgotten, but I can never get around to being that organized. Instead I ran around my room muttering in f*ck patois, throwing things from one end of the room to the other and all but trying to summon the antichrist.
Half an hour later I was anxiously awaiting my bus, one of the regular routes my roommate had suggested I take rather than an airport shuttle. It was cheaper and took the same amount of time, he said, so I figured I’d try something new. As long as I was at the airport bus stop by 3:00 I could walk the rest of the way to the airport in time. I needed to pick up my ticket by 3:35 – ticket desks shut down a half hour before the flight time in China. This was at 2:05pm.
Almost an hour and a half later I arrived a few blocks away from the airport. I was sure I’d miss my flight, but another part of me was confident that inwardly chanting, “I will not miss my flight” would work. I started running straight off the bus, but quickly realized my efforts would be futile. Panicking, I hailed a cab coming up the street and told him I had five minutes to make it to the airport. At 3:32 I ran inside and checked the departure board. By 3:33 I had my ticket. I’ve never been so stressed out in my entire life.
The actual check-in process and flight went smoothly. No one else sat in my row so I got to stretch out and enjoy the majesty of the clouds from my window. Finding the Shanghai metro once we landed wasn’t particularly difficult either, although my carefully jotted down notes were wrong. A nice lady redirected me and off I was!
The Shanghai metro, like Hong Kong’s, is easy to navigate and relatively clean and new. I liked it a lot more than New York City’s. The actual train system, on the other hand, confused the hell out of me. I arrived in Shanghai South Railway station a little before 7:30, thinking there was a CRH (high-speed train) to Hangzhou that left at 8:47. I walked around in circles for a bit then asked someone to help me find the ticket counter – which was packed. Worse, I saw a sign with the day’s date and underneath it, no trains were listed. Had I missed the train? Did I get it all wrong? I was so not prepared to spend the night in Shanghai. A man’s voice came over the loudspeaker saying something abut going to Hangzhou and then people started running to form a line. I watched them, wondering if I should be running too, but not wanting to give up my place in line in case he’d said, “Only an idiot who had no hope of getting to Hangzhou would get out of line right now and run to this line over here.” I asked the woman next to me, “He say what? Go Hangzhou over there?” She nodded and tried to tell me things, of which I understood enough to know to get over to that other line, where the gentleman in front of me confirmed that I was in the right place.
When I came up to the ticket window the train man (official title) held up a ticket and said “One.” I don’t know if he was asking if I wanted one ticket or telling me it was the last available, but getting it felt fittingly dramatic. I handed over my money and as I walked away, realized that I’d only paid 29RMB (roughly 4USD). This was not what I’d wanted. This ticket was for the slow train, not the CRH – and was I going to be standing? I started looking for my train’s waiting area and asked at a book kiosk where it might be. A random passerby wanted to look at my ticket so I thought he might be trying to help as well, but then he tried to sell me a folding stool. I laughed and walked away right before it hit me – I was definitely standing.
In the waiting lounge I met a nice young lady named Lucy who spoke a little English, but mostly talked to me in Chinese while I tried to make sense of it all. She was standing too, a few cars ahead of me. “How long will it take?” I asked. She didn’t know – she’d only ever taken the CRH. Great. We were set to take off at 9:30 and I feared the worst – three hours, maybe? But once on the train, good luck struck again. Lucy couldn’t find room to stand in her car so she came back to mine, where I’d found an empty seat. As the train departed still no one had claimed our spots*, so we sat and chatted the entire way. Plus, she found out we’d be in Hangzhou by 11:15, so the journey clocked in at just under two hours.
As I emerged from the train station I was of course besieged by insistent taxi drivers, whose mastery of the word, “Hello” emboldened them to a degree I wish I’d see in my students – people in possession of a far more extensive vocabulary. They tried to convince me to pay a set price off the meter, but I held out until one guy agreed not to con me (and I paid half what the other guys had wanted – make sure to pay attention to stuff like that in China – if they’re quoting you a price it means they want to charge you more than you should be paying).
At a little after midnight I rolled up to Wushanyi hostel and asked for a room. I didn’t have a reservation (their website required an American credit card and I wanted to pay RMB), but they had an extra triple room available, which they let me at the twin room rate. I was in bed a little after 1am. In one day I’d taken a bus, a taxi, a plane, a subway, a train and another taxi. If I’d found the time to ride a bike and a horse I think I would’ve set a world record for most forms of transport used in one day.
*P.S. The cheapest ticket on a Chinese train is standing room only. If you find a seat and no one comes by with a ticket for it, then it’s all yours. Or that’s how it worked for me. And no, f.y.i, there is no room to stand. The thin aisles become cramped and clogged with passengers with just as much luggage as everyone who bought a seat.