Travelling around China is an experience in itself and I can honestly say I crossed the country by train, plane, cruiser and a variety of automobiles.
The MagLev, short for Magnetic Levitation, is the fastest train in the world hovering above the ground. I spotted this speedy train from the coach whilst in Shanghai, noting it to be similar to the TGV, but I would have missed it had I blinked. Running from the city to the airport, the track is just over 30 km long, costing over a billion dollars to build, but it is only one of the extravagances of modern Shanghai, apartments reaching tens of millions of dollars.
The station wasn’t as futuristic as I had hoped, but it was sleek and clean and security was quick and easy. The predominant colour was turquoise or, some might say, aquamarine, which went well with the chrome, aluminium and steel. The track is a flat, dark grey, inlaid with two grooves running parallel to each other.
The seats are a plush aquamarine with white headrests and very comfortable. I was advised to sit on the right hand side if I wanted to feel the vibration when the trains passed each other at a halfway point at 328km/hr. I certainly felt the shudder when the two trains sped by at this phenomenal speed, but was more unnerved when the train swayed slightly on taking a bend, rather like riding pillion on a motorbike.
Above the doorway of the aisle was a LED display showing the speed. Some of my fellow travellers decided to video this as the train reached the top speed of 431km/hr, whereas I chose to keep an eye on it when it hit 400km/hr, otherwise I looked out the window at the countryside whizzing past.
The journey takes 7 minutes and runs every 15, thus the experience was over in a blink of an eye. I’d advise anyone visiting Shanghai to use this mode of transport to get from the airport to the city centre rather than suffer the Shanghai traffic. It really is slow and tortuous. Seemingly the best time of year to be in the city is Chinese New Year, when everyone goes “home”. The true Shanghai-ans are left to enjoy the semi-deserted streets getting from one side of the city to the other in 15 minutes rather than 2 or 3 hours!
I do have to add a note about the politeness of the announcements. LED moving surtitles at the station began with “Dear Passenger” and went on to say the train would be departing in so many minutes. The same was at the airport. How polite! I felt as if I’d received a letter or a carefully crafted email and was a valued customer!
The lift in the Jin Mao Tower is not as fast as the MagLev, but moves at 9m per second, thus reaching the 88th floor in 45 seconds. It was a very smooth ride and I was barely aware I was moving upwards, until I had to pop my ears. This skyscraper was once the tallest in China, but is now towered over by two others. (Pardon the pun!)
The view over the River Huangpu, the skyscrapers of modern Shanghai and the early Art Deco buildings of the old part of the city, is quite spectacular, obscured by what is not smog but a heat haze. (Well perhaps some smog thanks to the 5 million cars and the 100 million floating population!)
The viewing area gave a 360 degree panorama of the city but the centre of the skyscraper is hollow, allowing a vertigo inducing view of the interior: a large ice cream cone of spiralling corridors down to the ground floor where there is a restaurant. Anyone falling would land in the soup!
Dear Mr Tom Cruise, if you are reading this, please take a look at this architectural marvel for the next Mission Impossible movie. I can just see you vaulting from one floor to the other chasing the bad guy who is abseiling down the centre blasting away with his Uzi.
I’d suggest you abseil down the outside of the building, but you’ve already done that, and led the way for us lesser mortals. For the sake of a thrill and a photo the daring (or marginally deranged) are harnessed, helmeted and led out onto an outside ledge, but no abseiling just yet.
To get from one city to another I travelled with a group by plane. Leaving from Shanghai to Guilin there was a problem with my ticket as it only read Amelia Chambers, whereas my passport reads Amelia Earhart Chambers. I was told I had to wait to one side and was joined by a fellow passenger. ‘Have we been put of the naughty step?’ I asked and he laughed. Thankfully our tour guide was able to sort out the minor discrepancy.
An hour into the flight from Xi’An to Beijing it was announced we were being redirected to Hohhot Airport in Inner Mongolia, due to a thunderstorm storm in China’s capital. Not at all distressed by the news many of us were only too thrilled to be able to see more of China, and the views of the countryside were spectacular: winding rivers, peaked mountains, lush green fields and tracts of golden brown, barren land. Lakes too and wind farms dotted on the mountain tops. It is as if the gods have sliced the mountains and taken out prisms. They are very triangular in shape. I really wasn’t expecting the landscape to be so stunning. I wasn’t expecting to find myself in Inner Mongolia either and our guide pointed out white yurts on the fields as we landed.
Although stuck in Hohhot airport for three hours, I didn’t mind, it’s all part of modern day travel and not many can say they’ve journeyed on the world’s fastest train, ridden on one of the world’s fastest lifts and dropped in on Inner Mongolia!