China the difficult #2 Transport: subway

China is usually perceived as difficult by Europeans: communication is impossible, constant daily hassle, unyielding culture and far too many people. We are here to experience the truth of it. If there is any prejudice in particular you would like us to check out – let us know.

1511736_10152299218080600_344335097892555352_oThe metro or subway in Shenzhen is awesome! We love it, we need  it, we use it a lot. If you ever find yourself travelling around Shenzhen for more than two days,  buy a “Shen Zhen Tong” card. The Tong is a top-op card that works like the Oyster in London or the Octopus in Hong Kong. You buy it for ¥70 with ¥50 already on it and you can beep your merry way through the gates. On the back of the card is a map of the entire subway network – in Chinese, but colour coded for your convenience.

During rush hour the speeding indoor spacecraft is packed like a sardine tin. At other times the subway is hardly empty but usually you can find a seat if you dont enter the carriage near the main escalator.  While you are comfortably being whizzed around the city you can do some unashamed people watching. Rest assured that you will be watched too but not uncomfortably so. Also, 6 out of 10* people are looking at their cell phones or tablets and could be sitting next to the Zohlitar the demon Queen of the 8th dimension without noticing much.

Should the people be of disappointing interest, there is an entertainment system on board. It is meant as an advertising platform and to a foreigner Chinese advertisements are intriguing. The visual style is very different for the Western one and the emotional expressions are framed and overdone. Most advertisements feel like high quality TellSell snippets. Sometimes the feed has audio for the entire subway to enjoy.

One of the most appreciated features is a LED-board indicating all the stops on route – where we’ve been (red lights) and were we are still going (green lights). The road between two stops flows from red to green dots like a progress bar.  When you are about to arrive at a stop, the corresponding LED starts blinking orange and the audio message starts. The audio starts with fast and high-pitched Mandarin and Cantonese (we think) and ends in slow American English – even pronouncing the place names in their American English interpretation.

Please mind your head as the handholds dangling in the middle of the carriage are at head height for us (average 1.78m). Definitely mind the basic life advice that scrolls by every so often on the LED ticker “Please take good care of children!”.

*This number is the average of 12 counts I did based on proximity groupings of 10, on three different lines at three different times of the day.