An index to the China series appears at the first post.
I had planned an extra week of vacation time in Beijing, but an invitation to Shanghai from a long-time friend changed my plans. I would spend this day traveling to Shanghai by the new high-speed train from Beijing! I met Jing Li when she was a post-doc at Vanderbilt, but she has since become an associate professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. (SJTU is where Yao Ming attended school after his NBA career.) I was glad for the chance to visit with Jing Li’s group. She moved mountains to get travel arrangements in place quickly enough; I learned that I would be traveling to Shanghai only two days before heading down there!
September 26, 2016
I awoke early that Monday morning, feeling full of energy. I had a lot to do, preparing for my trip. I loaded my clothes and presents into my big roller bag; it seemed rather more stuffed than it did upon arrival. I decided to go once more for the hot breakfast next door, and I enjoyed the fried egg, potato wrap, and two red bean paste-filled sesame buns. I came back to write in my journal and then realized I needed to finish packing; my ICT hosts would arrive in only ten minutes, at nine AM!
When I checked out of the hotel, I suddenly realized that I couldn’t figure out where I had left my envelope full of cash. I am afraid I made rather an ass of myself, scrambling back into the hotel room (where I discovered that I had forgotten to clear the two drawers of socks and underwear) and then opening my big bag in the lobby (the money was sitting right on top of the pile). I paid out my bill, and then the two graduate students conveyed me out to the main street, where we could hail a taxi. As usual, we found a taxi within a minute of arrival at the road.
The high-speed trains leave Beijing only from the south railway station. It was a fair amount of distance to cover by taxi; the traffic bogged down to a standstill several times. Since I was picking up my paper ticket in person, I was a bit nervous. Travel advisories suggest people in my situation arrive at least two hours before the train departs (mine was the G411, at 11:20 AM). As it was, our arrival worked out just fine. We collected the ticket at a six-window counter, with long lines at each position. Hurried passengers jumped the queue, which left me feeling non-plussed.
With ticket in hand, our group had a moment to talk shop. We discussed some strategies for improving the manuscripts each had in mind. I am excited about the possibilities for the pFinders as they have so many tools they can bring to bear on informatic problems. At forty-minutes before the planned departure, the platform for my train opened. I waved farewell and trundled my bags down the escalator to platform ten. Waiting for me was this princely beast:
China is still in is first decade with high-speed rail. Beijing and Shanghai are its two richest cities, and yet they are a considerable distance apart. The rail and air service between them had been saturated for quite some time, and so adding high-speed rail made a lot of sense. China went through some birthing pains with the line, though. Although at first they had planned 350 kph service, the plans were revised to top out at 300 kph service, with slightly less expensive 250 kph service. The train routes use elevated tracks for much of the route, so much so that the track runs over two of the longest bridges in the world! I was delighted that I could make this long run to Shanghai for less than $85 USD. I was particularly glad that I would be on the faster 300 kph service!
As for the train ride itself, I would report that it was surprisingly normal. The train moves relatively slowly as it clears the Beijing South rail yard. Its pace gradually picks up as it leaves the city. One should keep in mind that doubling the speed of a car on the freeway takes quite a lot of energy for something as large as a train; applying acceleration gradually is certainly the more efficient way to do it. I would also note that the route is not a continuous run at top speed. In fact, the train makes a fair number of stops throughout the route. It was a hazy and gray day for my ride, and pictures do not make the speed very apparent.
As the train pulled into Shanghai, I received an SMS from the graduate student meeting me at the train station. I replied with my arrival platform, and we met soon after. I was already sweating; I have read that Shanghai is routinely ten degrees (C) hotter than Beijing. We started for the subway straightaway, though I had arrived at the start of rush hour. Many, many people use the subway to commute to work! We rode the line from the train station / airport to People’s Square, and then we rode another all the way to its end in Southwest Shanghai. The crush of people became somewhat intense, although I did not see the crowds shoving one last person through the doors. My ankle, weakened by endless walking for two days, began to be a problem, but we reached our last stop before it had given out altogether. We followed the thundering herd outside and hailed a taxi.
My friend, Jing Li, had arranged a “hot pot” dinner to introduce me to her group of eight people. Five are Ph.D. students, and two are working toward a Master’s degree. We gathered in a restaurant on the third floor of a glitzy shopping mall that seemed 100% sparkle and shine. I hadn’t seen Jing Li in six years! We had a grand time catching up.
A couple of her students were hot pot aficionados. The table was built around four metal pots in the center. Two different kinds of broth were boiling merrily inside. We added bits of meat, mushrooms, or lotus root to the pots, and after a while we would hoist a bit onto our plates. They looked at me skeptically when I said I could use chopsticks, and they offered some pointers on improving my grip. The students kept volunteering selections from the hotter broth. The spices made my face go red. In return, I challenged the students with a math question that had stumped me in a high school summer program. We all had fun, I think.
As nine P.M. arrived, our party broke up, and I traveled by taxi to my hotel. Our driver was auditioning for NASCAR, shifting from lane to lane as though he could push the cars in front of us out of the way. He was cutting people off without remorse. At one point, he veered into the bike lane to shove his way past a car. We were a bit shaken by the time we reached the hotel.
I had arrived in Shanghai!