A Mini-Ethnography: Shanghai-Hangzhou High Speed Rail

Photo by S370/CC BY-SA 3.0
1:28pm, 23rd March 2016

We leave the station slowly and pass under the spaghetti of roads just outside

Speed picks up slightly and the view changes to worn out fields of weeds

Up another gear and warehouses, more spaghetti, quaint houses, a freeway

This is a green, smoke-free train according to the hostess over the speaker

Another gear, beside an elevated freeway

Construction sites, across rivers, yellow flowers in worn-out and unkempt fields

A woman with a tray of who-knows-what. No time to stop and sell

Purple uniforms, 184km/h, 15 degrees

Market gardens amongst rubble, an excavator and construction

Some drinks and snacks, just so, pass faster than the train seems to move

Over another market garden, a creek, a slow train

Another gear and like nothing we reach 300 km/h

1:37pm, 23 degrees inside

Constant rumbling, the slight drone of engines

Barely notice the pace until a sound barrier careens past

With subliminal flashes of market gardens in the gaps

We're off and Shanghai dissipates as if into the perpetual grey sky

Or it would if it ever ended

Hangzhou to Shanghai, 8:18pm

Ticket office over there. No - construction.

Ask police. Downstairs.

Outside, 200m, walk the stairs to the ticket office

No signs for outsiders

Line-up behind the yellow line while nobody else does

¥75 for both but too cheap. First class?

Window 21 is the reply. Back in line, but longer

First class. All done.

Out of the ticket office and straight past where the cops told us to go downstairs

So near and yet so far

Welcome at the entry, passports waved off. But no gate number

Search for the journey number, not too difficult

Seat won't stay up - travelling backwards at speed. Seems to stop more often

Other classes more seats, good to have room to move

But hoiking, hoiking everywhere. A national past-time? The smog?

Hangzhou is quiet in parts. (Arm nearly ripped off by passing luggage!)

People dancing on the deck, old men singing and playing musical instruments

The crowd joins in. Chestnuts, squirrels (so friendly!), the West Lake (so happy!)

Then through the spaghetti and we're back

But then home to buses and slow trains, an airport where the traffic holds up the bus

On the tarmac trying to get to the other terminal. Not so in China

Rich country on the cheap. Poor country shows the way.