As I was wrapping up my time in Beijing, I was feeling a variety of different emotions. Sad to say goodbye to all of the people who I had gotten to know over the past four months, but at the same time excited to begin another adventure in a new city in China….Shanghai.
Myself, and the two other students from my program at Roger Williams
University, were headed to Shanghai to begin an internship with Gensler, one of the world’s largest and most successful architectural design firms. Not only was
I getting a chance to work for a company that I have followed and admired for a long time, but to combine that with how much China and the rest of Asia
are building right now, seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime.
Our final presentations were on a Friday night, which gave us one day to pack up before catching an overnight train on Saturday night from Beijing to Shanghai. The way that the train system works in China, you can only buy tickets ten days in advance of your departure date. To reserve the tickets, you had the option of going to the train station in person (where most of the time there is no English) or paying a local agency to go to the station for you. Judging by our student budgets, we elected to go in person ourselves, which of course is an adventure in itself. We showed up a few hours after the office had opened (ten days before our departure date), and everything was already sold out except the “hard seats.” We were hoping for “soft sleepers,” where you have a private cabin with four beds; sleep all night, waking up ready to go. But, I guess that is why you pay a little extra and go with the agency. They still have to buy the tickets in person like everyone else, but they pay people to make sure that they are the first in line wherever tickets are sold.
At first you wouldn’t think the hard seats to be a problem, sure it’s a 14 hour train ride which is pretty long to be sitting anywhere regardless of where it might be, but at least we had seats, how bad could it be? As we got through the gates and were walking toward our train car, we noticed a man selling what looked like tiny folding chairs. People who did not have “hard seat” tickets could get a cheaper ticket to stand in the aisle…for 14 hours! It turned out that not only were all the soft sleepers, soft seats, and hard seats sold out, but the aisles were packed with people sitting, lying down, standing, and all their luggage. In order to make it from our seats to the bathroom, it was like navigating through landmines, avoiding bags of luggage, folding chairs, chinese families, and all their breakfasts.
Our seats were just as packed as the rest of the train, but we had some interesting characters around us. The man who sat across from me was built like a freight train. After some hand signal communications, I figured out he was a boxer from Thailand. He was extremely friendly and even had a little carry-size boom-box which he loved to play techno music at high volume. Judging by the size of him, no one really argued. By the end of the journey, we were joking around and he insisted on arm wrestling me. Needless to say he destroyed me…twice.
After a long evening, night, and morning, we arrived in Shanghai just before noon. I have to say that the train ride from Beijing to Shanghai, was an experience I will never forget. If you have the opportunity to take a hard seat or standing room ticket on a train in China, you are guaranteed to be uncomfortable for the majority of the ride, but you will definitely leave the train with some great stories.