Shanghai, China and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
February 17 – 20, 2012 / March 1, 2013
The first impression of foreign visitors was usually their experience at the airport and the ride out. If that proved to be more stressful than the flight itself, then it certainly leveled expectations. “That’s the way the cookie crumbles,” I’d say. While I relished such convenience in most cities I had visited, it depressed me that we couldn’t have the same luxury back home. Case in point: Shanghai. I flew in past midnight with my girlfies, Perfy and Vang. We had no other choice but to take a taxi – metered, no haggling and overcharging. For our return flight, we could not pass up taking the Maglev train, the first in the world.
We made the transfer from Shanghai Subway Line 2 at Longyang Road Station. That accessibility from the city’s subway system was a major point of convenience. The station was practically empty; we thought it had already closed. Off-season perhaps. One-way ticket cost 50 RMB, not as pricey as we had expected. The platform was spic and span, and we had it all to ourselves before a few others came. A train station in China without crowds and chaos had been the stuff of our imagination up until then.
The Maglev train, looking slick and aerodynamic, whizzed into the station almost without a sound. It whisked us to Pudong International Airport, 30 kilometers away, in no longer than eight minutes. Both time and speed were conspicuously displayed at a digital ticker tape at the front of the cabin.
The ride itself was smooth, akin to a plane in flight with the same hum. I pressed my nose on the glass to see the countryside zip past. Because the train was slightly suspended above the rails – “maglev” being shorthand for magnetic levitation – there was no sensation of friction. We were literally flying at 300km/hour. A nifty piece of imported train technology from Germany.
It made sense that China would take its railway system to the 21st century; much smaller countries like Japan and South Korea had preceded China in modern train technology. However, it was still dogged by its dodgy safety record. A Japanese friend expressed concern that I would be taking a train out of Shanghai.
It was no secret that Chinese trains were prone to derailment and collisions. In other words, as fake and low-quality as anything made in China! When I told them, my girlfies got their panties in a knot. Until we got to Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station.
The station was a sweeping terminal like an airport, which eased the girls’ anxiety about train travel. It had all the familiarity of modern terminals, save for the digital train schedule in Chinese characters, not even in pinyin. It rendered non-Chinese readers illiterate and lost. At least the ticket clerk spoke English. We bought round-trip tickets to Hangzhou, a scenic city 177 kilometers south of Shanghai.
I went the same way a decade ago, before the era of high-speed trains. The train that chugged along for two hours had been updated to a CRH (China Railway High-speed) train that wheezed to Hangzhou in just 45 minutes. I had to hand it to the Chinese government for putting up such state-of-the-art infrastructure and modern efficiency, despite commie-style corruption.
But that was China, the world’s emerging superpower. Somewhere closer to home – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the airport-to-city ride was just as comfortable and convenient. KLIA Ekspres, spacious enough to accommodate both passengers and luggage, closed the 67-kilometer distance between the downtown and Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).
My travel girlfie this time, Donna, took her sweet time from hotel check-out to airport check-in and just ignored how I was getting all antsy along the way. We were headed to the LCC Terminal (KLIA T2), not directly accessible by KLIA Ekspres. We had to transfer one stop short to a bus shuttle. Still and all, the entire trip to the airport was hassle-free and stress-free, not considering the ants in my pants, thanks to Donna. We made it to our flight in time.
Then back to reality, I arrived in Manila. Despite our airport’s ideal location within city limits, no train service connected it to the rest of the city as in Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur. Passengers without pick-up arrangements were at the mercy of abusive, if not downright criminal, taxi drivers, while outbound ones needed to contend with our perennially snarled traffic.
I wondered if our politicians ever envied our neighbors’ progressive public transportation system. Apparently, the impression of foreigners was the least of their concerns, but, at the very least, they should’ve done their job in ensuring the safety and convenience of the public they served.