Monday, March 24, 2008

First Train Experience

I would never thought that my first train experience would be at Shanghai. I was required to travel to Nanjing, which is about 300km away, and the customer insisted that train travel was far more convenient than by flight.

"Yeah, right.", I thought.

Before I got more into that, let me explain why I never been on a train before. Simply because, KTM is the worst mode of transport in Malaysia. It is consistently, but randomly late. The Senandung line to Singapore could be as late as 4 hours! I just don't get it, how can the train system be late, as there are no jams... As everyone knows, the journey to Singapore takes an excruciating 12 hours, excluding customs. A premier bus takes about 5 hours tops.

Back to Shanghai, me and my buddy decided to take the cab (instead of the MetroLine) because it was suppose to be a low traffic hour (3pm), and we didn't want to drag our luggage for 15 mins to the nearest MetroLine station. Boy, the cabbie that we hired was on fire, man. We got caught in some crazy bad traffic, and he was fuming. While cursing and swearing, he took some really funky shortcuts, and was weaving in and out of traffic without any regards to other vehicles, even busses!

I was quite terrified, so to speak.

Reached the Shanghai Train Station, got down, and immediately there was a porter offering to handle our luggage for like 10 Kuai. The funky part is that he has this piece of rotten wood on wheels, and tied to a rope. No way I am going to let him handle my luggage. OK, walked up the stairs (yes, the taxi stop is underground) and was greeted by this humongous building.

So, to make a very long story short, in point form (again):

  1. Had to queue to go into the station. A mean looking guy in Gong An uniform will check your ticket. If your train ride is not due within 2 hours, he will chase you away rudely,
  2. Had my luggage X-rayed! For god sake, I didn't know that someone wants to blow up the train!
  3. The hall looks like an airport. Big, tall with a huge signboard to announce the arrival and departure. All in Mandarin. Good luck guai-lohs.
  4. Navigated to one of the 12 waiting halls. It's huge but it's packed to the brim! I estimated the capacity to be around 500 seats. Uh oh. This is going to be rough. Think overloaded India trains with people sleeping on top?
  5. 5 mins before departure time, boarding announcement in Mandarin.

Wow! Was I in a shock or what.  A nice shock! Our train was a very very long one, and looks very futuristic! Better looking than TGV!

Boarded, put my luggage on top of my seat. I tell you, I was dumb founded. Make me feel like a hillbilly. The difference compared to our KTM is like being on a Fokker Friendship that is being slapped around by turbulence as I am trying to hold my lunch in (KTM) versus a 737 on super cruise mode where I can still can slowly sip my drink in peace (China Railways)!

At one point of time, it was cruising at 240km/h and it felt like Disney on Ice. Sitting arrangement was 3-3 (versus KTM 2-2), and there was ample of space. Heating was available, so were coat hangers, tray and "in-flight" magazine. It was totally like an airplane experience, man.

I am truly sold. It was a really quality ride, on par with Japanese or European bullet trains.

I have to eat my own words, again.

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