Written by Melodie Vuong (University of Texas- Austin), Student Correspondent CET Shanghai Summer 2019
“Okay, when we get off the bus, we have to run!” The adrenaline was pumping to give us all the fight and flight response: in this situation we needed both. We have to fight our way through the crowd and fly past security to make it to the bullet train on time. They kept repeating this instruction as the bus slowly crept along with traffic. I vaguely remember our train was scheduled to depart at 7:22. There was a clock at the front of the bus, and it seemed like it was mocking us as each minute ticked by. By 7:21, I had given up hope: we would just have to catch a different train.
It had already been a long day: we had gotten up at 5 AM and took the subway to arrive at the bullet train station at 7 AM to board the bullet train at 7:22. This was my first time riding the bullet train. It is as amazing as everyone says: it went upwards of 300km/h but it did not even feel like we were moving. The scenes were a mixture of the rural countryside and developing suburbia. When we got to the station, we had to take a bus for another hour before we reached the historical village.
The little village of 桐乡(tongxiang) is nestled right along a river. The bridges were built five centuries years ago, and the buildings were built two to three centuries ago. It is now a tourist attraction for visitors who want to experience what it was like to walk down the streets of China’s past. There were so many Instagrammable places: from the bridges that feature stunning canal-like scenes to alleyways with walls that make vines crawl with envy. Not only will your eyes be amazed by all the amazing views, but your taste buds will be blown away by all the delicious foods. There are so many restaurants that line the streets with local snacks.
By the time we finally walked to the other end of the village, we were all exhausted. After sitting for a bit, we all agreed to eat dinner in a neighboring (slightly more modern and I do emphasize the use of slightly) town. The family-style dinner featured both familiar and foreign dishes. It was both reminiscent of eating dinner with my family and a reminder that I am not home.
When we finally left the restaurant, it was already 5:40. They decided to call a didi (which is just the Chinese version of Uber or Lyft). When we got to the bus station, we found out that the bus stops running at 5:45. It was 5:46 PM. The last bus had left. However, the bus station attendant told us that there is a late bus that runs. The stop is just right around the corner. As we made our way to that corner, a surge of taxi drivers encapsulated us, asking where we were wanting to go and yelling that they could take us there. I just continued to walk briskly and avoided eye contact. We were just standing at the bus stop when one of the taxi drivers come over to us and told us that the bus would not come. He took out his phone and showed us the bus schedule. Luckily, we were with our Chinese roommates, so they were able to tell him that the attendant told us there would be another bus and showed him the schedule on their phones. He offered to take us to the train station for a “cheap” price of 150 yuan. It must not have been a good deal because they were all shocked at the price. (They would later search up the didi price, and it was only 80 yuan.)
After standing at the stop for a while, they realized that we were at the wrong stop. We walked to the other corner to wait for the bus. We were not the only one who relocated because that same taxi driver followed us, and this time, he brought a friend. They kept trying to negotiate a price while we just refused. I simply did not want to accept a ride form them. I would be fine with any other taxi driver. Persistence is good but when it is excessive, it is annoying and just inconsiderate. The bus finally came, and we just said our goodbyes by getting on the bus.
It was 6:30 PM and the ride took about an hour in the morning. I was trying to be optimistic by thinking that maybe this ride would be shorter because the return trip typically feels shorter. This was definitely not the case. Maybe it was because we were standing this time since the bus was packed. Or maybe I was exhausted and sticky (Shanghai is very humid), so all I wanted was a nice shower and to lay on my bed. The minutes seemed to drag on but fly by at the same time. As the bus stopped at each bus stop, I was losing hope that we would catch our train. The hopeless grew as the clock continued to tick away.
It was not until 7:25 PM that my friend thought about checking the tickets one last time. Our train was scheduled to come at 19:31. I remembered the time for our morning train. It was like everything I had known was a lie, and I was transformed into a different person. I suddenly had the motivation and optimism that we would make the bus. The game plan was to literally run off the bus and past security to the train platform, and that is exactly what we did. Once the bus door open, we were off and racing to the security line. After passing that hurdle, we run up the escalator to the train platform. With one minute to spare, we found the line for our train car and boarded the bullet train.
Moral of the story: transportation is very important. Do not just assume that the buses will just keep running. Double check the schedule! Also, it is better to arrive early and give yourself some cushion time than to be scrambling with just enough time to spare. However, the adrenaline rush is something I will never forget and a story that I have already told countless times.