Today marks the end of the three-day celebration of China’s National Day. Five days if you would consider the preceding weekend. Which reminds me of the long weekends I had back in the days when I had to endure an intense crowd to reach my far-off destination.
For work reasons, I lived in Kunshan, China from 2006 to 2009. Kunshan is a city within Suzhou at the southeastern part of Jiangsu Province. At the time, my idea of travel is a day trip within or outside the city. Day trips mean there were no hotels involved. I had to leave home early in the morning and come back late at night.
On long holidays, however, we would go as far as Hangzhou.
It was said that if every permanent resident of Kunshan will be out on the streets at the same time, there will be at least 700 persons standing per square-kilometer of land. This rough estimation excludes the foreigners and temporary residents. Which wasn’t actually true but at the rate high-rise residential buildings are being constructed in China, we can see this happening very soon.
Labor Day crowd at the Shanghai Oceanarium
During the Labor Day in May 2008, a friend and I left Kunshan to visit our friend in Hangzhou. However, the tickets we bought earlier had us several hours to spend in Shanghai. We went to the Shanghai Oceanarium and thought it was one of the worst decisions we made during our travels. The place was filled to the brim.
Shanghai Oceanarium has two huge aquarium tunnels where people could pass through while gawking at the marine creatures. I was both amazed and annoyed. Amazed because I’ve always loved visiting aquarium centers and the varieties of marine species were so diverse. Plus there were penguins. Annoyed because the crowd was so thick, it outshined the amazing creatures at the exhibits.
Upon entering the first tunnel, you wouldn’t even have to take a single step because you’ll be automatically pushed forward by the crowd behind you. If you want to take a decent picture, you must set your camera to the fastest shutter setting (use multiple running shots if possible) because you can’t pause to even click the shutter button without being pushed (a perfect reason for explaining why you have 95% of all your photos blurred).
Don’t even allow yourself to faint or fall down because you’d definitely get flattened like a pizza dough. The arrival of the crowd was seemingly endless that if you would fall down during the opening, your body will only be noticed during closing.
At the time, Shanghai Oceanarium held the title for having the World’s Longest Underwater Viewing Tunnel at 155 meters. It was the second tunnel from the main entrance and had a travelator. If you’re lucky enough to get past the first tunnel, the travelator will remind you how unimportant it was as you already had meed moving at the slightest effort.
The case of mutilple connecting and overlapping train tickets
Trains are also packed like cans of sardines during long weekends and major holidays. Especially on the slower and older models, people could be standing all throughout their trips.
Once upon boarding the train on our way to Hangzhou, we were surprised to find out that two middle-aged men already occupying our seats. When we compared theirs and our tickets, we realized they were only supposed to take those seats in Hangzhou East Railway Station. It was the station was we would be getting off.
It turned out that during long holidays, people who were heading to far-off destinations would usually buy multiple connecting tickets. They’d take whatever tickets are available until they arrive at their intended destination.
A person going to Beijing from Shanghai may buy three or more trains tickets if direct train tickets are no longer available. For instance, Shanghai to Hangzhou, Hangzhou to Nanjing, and Nanjing to Beijing. Sometimes they would even buy overlapping tickets just if connecting tickets are not available. For example Shanghai to Nanjing and Hangzhou to Beijing.
People could be rude and lines may not exist
As what an expat living in China once wrote on a forum, “Don’t try to wait in line. Lines don’t exist. Throw elbows and mix it up.”
Once when it was my time to be served at a ticketing booth in Kunshan, a middle-aged woman suddenly elbowed me and went ahead to the service window. The way she leered at me suggested that she was on the line first when clearly, she just arrived. Or perhaps waiting patiently for my turn so she could do her scene.
I also had several encounters when people would pretend to be just asking questions at the ticketing booth only to find out soon that the person was already paying for his tickets. Sneaky bastards.
Also, on our way to Hangzhou, there was a small dining table in front of our seats inside the train. It was about 2 feet long and a foot wide. Left-over foods and chestnut shells were scattered all over and I had to clean it out as soon as we got seated. However, there was this woman sharing that same table with us eating boiled eggs, sunflower seeds, and other edibles from her bag. My companion’s temper was building slowly heating up each time the woman would crack a sunflower seed and spit its empty shells in the front table. As if seeing me wipe the table in front of her was not enough to solicit some courtesy.
We just sarcastically assumed that the woman was so rich for her to feel like owning the whole train. And I must say, China is a haven for rich people because the other man feasting on two plump tomatoes beside her had been spitting peels and seeds all the same.
But at the end of the day, having a better understanding of all the cultural differences makes the traveling in China, or everywhere else, a bit easier.