From time to time, I get asked which country I’ve visited do I like the most. This is a very difficult question for me to answer. I don’t think I actually have a favorite, but there are some places I do love & China is one of them. China was the first Asian country I visited & it was the first time I had traveled without my family. It was on this trip that the travel bug bit & when I learnt that I didn’t need to rely on anyone else to see the world – that if I truly wanted to see the world, I could.
I had just finished my studies & had saved a small bit of money. I had no idea where my life was going & my friend invited me to visit her in Shanghai. My great & wonderful friend, Sue, was teaching English in China. Going to the Far East was just such an abstract idea that no one in my family had done before so naturally I jumped at the opportunity.
Possibly the very first impression I had of the country was the air pollution. Bear in mind this was years before our current pandemic days of reduced production & manufacturing. I had a window seat & I wanted to see the countryside as we got nearer Shanghai, but that wasn’t possible. There’s this smog that plagues cities in China which drastically reduces your visibility. The time of year & weather do affect this as well, but overall a clear sky is not always guaranteed.
Sue had told me to expect a culture shock & that was an understatement. That culture shock is something I struggle to express because of the magnitude of it. The way of life in China is vastly different from what I knew & what is the norm in South Africa. Experiencing something so different is what formed my passion for travel. There’s just something about it that takes over my thoughts & it seems to seep into my bloodstream & pulsates through my body. It sounds ridiculous, but that is how it feels to me.
The cheapest way around Shanghai is the metro system. This system alone is a mind boggling topic because of its size & the sheer number of commuters using it. It has 16 active lines with over 400 stations & the system’s total length is roughly 700 kilometers. On the average work day, over 10 million people will use Shanghai’s metro. I can’t possibly explain to you what it is like using this metro at peak time. It is crowded. The trains are overflowing with people & the stations are so packed that if you don’t have a tight grasp on the person you are traveling with, you will be separated from them & good luck getting back to them. If you think I am exaggerating, there are actually reports of numerous injuries & a death caused in crowded metro stations. All of this & people laugh at me when I say using public transport in China during rush hour is like an extreme sport.
On one of my first days in Shanghai, Sue & I were going somewhere during this busy period. I was unprepared. Getting on the first train was fine, but then we had to change lines at a busy station. The train slowed to a stop & I saw hordes of people pressed up against the glass doors ready to spill into the train. Sue quickly grabbed my wrist & held my arm tight against her. The doors opened & it was mayhem. The sea of people was pushing us further inside the carriage. It seemed like our bodies were being picked up & moved backwards against our will. I remember having to almost fight our way out. Sue got a foot on the platform first & pulled me out of the train. I don’t know what would have happened if we weren’t holding on to each other. As soon as we were in a quieter area, we just looked at each other & burst out laughing – to the point where we were actually in tears. I think we were in such disbelief at what had just happened.
I’d love to squeeze more into this post, but I have already gone over my word budget so you’ll just have to follow my blog & wait for the next part of this adventure.
Keep traveling, keep safe.