Tuesday, August 11, 2009

There has to be some way of venting my resentment of China. I heard that they blocked Facebook here the night before I left, but it seemed too awful to be true. Well, it is.

China, as I expected, is a bizarre mixture of the ultra-modern, the ultra-bureaucratic, and the ultra-backwards. I took the Maglev bullet train from the airport yesterday, which has a top speed of 431 km/h, but the whole thing was administered like a rollercoaster. You weren't allowed onto the platform until just before the train got there, but some people did anyways, and then they were ushered out the exit (myself included). A man argued and we were let back in.

Buying a train ticket in China reminds me of the time I traveled by train to India from Pakistan as a kid. The train station is frighteningly chaotic and sad. The only ticket office that is marked is an automatic ticket office that only sells tickets to a randomly-determined set of destinations (hint: it's not yours). When I asked a police officer, singing out the Chinese tones to get my point across, he pointed to the vending machines, then assigned me a young man for a guide.

The main ticket office is a nightmare. There are 20 ticket windows, one of which is marked with a small "we speak English sign" (hint: it's number 10), which is not visible until you get there. A man barks over the loudspeakers, people push and yell behind you (there are at least a thousand people in the tiny ticket office), and you can barely hear the seller. That's how I ended up with a ticket leaving Thursday night instead of Thursday morning. There might be recourse, but I was too scared of the migrants and peasants in the line (yes, the English-speaking line) behind me to attempt recourse. I just walked back into the grey outside, with bright red lights and the people on wheeled shoes selling shiny things. Last night, at least, Shanghai reminded me of a modern version of Bleak House.

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