Solomon Crawford: Transportation in China

Before coming to Chengdu I often thought about how hard it would be to travel. My Mandarin is good but not that good where I can easily read a train map or bus schedule. Before coming here I pictured public transportation as a more complex and even dirtier form of the NYC Metro, but upon arrival and spending a couple of weeks taking public transportation, my whole predetermined notion that I had instilled in my mind had completely vanished. I couldn’t have been more wrong in my life; traveling in Chengdu is extremely easy.

It is so simple, you could give a child a fare and place and that child would arrive at that designated location in one piece. It is also extremely convenient that the stop names are in English and that the announcements are in both languages. The Metro is extremely safe compared to the subway I’m used to. For instance the platform is enclosed by glass, so it is impossible for anyone to fall onto the tracks. Also the cars of the train are all connected to each other so it is also impossible to fall into the tracks that way.

The only time you can actually see the tracks is when you are waiting for the train to come. Another thing that makes the Metro notoriously safe is that before people can enter the train they have to put their bags through x-ray machines and walk through metal detectors. This ensures that the Metro is completely safe for everyone. Another thing that I like about the stations is that they all have these little kiosks where you can take pictures with your friends and post them on WeChat. Doing that and having a couple of laughs in the process makes waiting for the train come go by so much faster.

Another thing that must be applauded is the fact that Chengdu’s Metro service is always on time down to the last second. I never had to wait longer than it was said for a train and there has never been a delay of service. The system would be perfect if only they changed one thing. The Metro stops running at 10:30 PM – compared to the trains I use back home, that is extremely early. I’m used to being able to take a train at all times of the night. So if you want to go out on a Friday night make sure you get to the Metro before 10:30 or else you’ll be paying for a pricey cab ride.

Now this brings me to another popular form of transportation in Chengdu— the taxi. Taxis are relatively cheap in Chengdu.  The base fare is 9 kuai and after that it does not go up that much per mile. All the taxis in China are Volkswagens; I’m pretty sure they are Jettas, and they can get you to your destination pretty fast. One thing I noticed about the taxi drivers is that they all have a need for speed. They always seem to sacrifice safety in order to get to their destination faster.

I have been in so many taxis where we were just weaving in and out of traffic that it felt like I was in a Fast and Furious movie. The only thing I could do is buckle my seatbelt and pray to God for safe passage. They are really useful when you want to get somewhere quick at night, but during the day I would suggest taking the Metro since there is always so much traffic. Like I said in my previous blog, no one follows traffic laws so intersections are in complete disarray.

Now if you are confident in your Chinese you can hop on a bus, but be wary they only announce stops in Chinese. I myself have not taken the bus by myself, but by the end of the trip I know I will be more confident in using this form of transportation. They are the cheapest form of transportation, but they take twice as long maybe even longer. All in all public transportation in Chengdu is cheap and it gets the job done. The drivers are friendly and always try to help non-Mandarin speakers like me and friends get to our destination.

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