It turned out to be a fun weekend this time. I needed to go to my daughter’s school to pay the fees, and since the school happens to be adjacent to our new house, I decided to use public transport so that I would know how to commute from office to home and back (since my office is near my current temp housing). This is the greatest place I found to get bus route info in english and he also has a great presentation on understanding bus system in Shanghai, thank you Micah!
I planned to go by metro to the nearest big station to the school and then take a cab. I was told the best way to ride metro is to buy a pre-paid card (http://www.sptcc.com – in Chinese!) which costs 20 RMB and swipe it as you go along once you fill/refill it with enough money. Metro prices are very affordable, 3 RMB for first 6 kms, and then 1 RMB for every 10 kms. This can be used on buses (which charge 1RMB flat for every ride on a regular bus and 2 RMB on an AC one) as well as on taxis. So I tried to buy a pre-paid card at the xujihui station. It was difficult explaining to the person on the counter, but showing him 100 RMB note did the trick, we further transacted in sign language when he tried to tell me that I need to pay 20 RMB for the card cost, and within a minute I had a pre-paid card with 100 RMB loaded in it. Happily, I walked to the entry gates, but every swipe would say something like “Go to BOM” instead of letting me in. Took me 5-10 minutes of embarrassing glances all around me and to those waiting behind me, but finally I found some official-looking guy who got me in. My current explanation to this is that once you buy the card, you will have to get in the station by asking someone; after the first time, it works fine.
Riding on the metro was a breeze, and a great experience. I didn’t expect the trains to be so frequent (every 3 minutes or so in both directions), so clean, and so punctual. However, entry and exit process was through the same gate, which can cause problems in rush hours but thankfully I was travelling on a weekend.
All the large metro stations are under big road intersections, and have multiple exits depending on which road you want to come out on, so picking the exit gate is an exercise on its own (esp if you want to catch a bus which plies on a particular road). However, since I planned to take a taxi, this wasn’t too bug an issue. Shanghai South Railway station is large enough, because it is also starting point for Line 3, as well as one of the 2 long-distance train stations and bus stops. So it took me about 5 minutes walk to get out on the ground J.
Taking a taxi to the school was expensive, about 20 RMB, and I had to show the map to the driver before he could figure out how to go there. This is one problem I have been facing all along. All the addresses in Shanghai seem to only mention the road name and the house number. This works fine if the road is well-known, but for smaller roads and with newer cab drivers, it becomes a problem. Thankfully, road names are reasonably unique, though some of the roads are so long that it is not useful. You need to know the name of the area, but the official address of a place doesn’t include the name of the area so it is tough. And you can’t explain the way (even when you know it) since you do not know enough mandarin! J
Once I was done with the school, I walked to our new house, it was about 5-6 minutes normal walk. I walked further to the next intersection to check out the area, and those weren’t long walks either. Interestingly, the bus number that I had noted down to come back (Bus # 770) wasn’t available anywhere on that road. So I just got on the next bus to see where it goes (well, I was told that one of the buses from that stop goes to Shanghai stadium so it wasn’t that blind a move!). It did take me to the stadium, and there weren’t many stops on the way, but it had a roundabout way of going there, so took about 20 minutes to be there (no traffic issues, I am sure rush hour time will be double that). This helped me look at the route and the area covered, and I plan to have a similar trip on the other bus next week. From Shanghai stadium, metro ride to xujiahui was 2-3 minutes and I was back home in no time.
After this experience on Saturday, I was bold enough to try a real blind trip on bus on Sunday. I needed to go on Hongqiao road which is the straight road starting from xujiahui area but there were too many buses crossing that stop. Finally I picked the one that started from there (Bus # 836) which starts from there and I was right! It was also not very crowded, and it didn’t have many stops either (which was bad for me since I had to go a short distance and ended up walking to reach my destination as well as to go to the nearest stop while returning!). This trip was good too.
Overall, this was a great experience and now I feel all taxi rides are very expensive (they start at 11 RMB) and we shouldn’t be using them on weekends at least! I still need to figure out the best way to go to office from my new home on Hua Jing road (which is the southernmost point of XuHui district) and after my subway experience I want to maximize the subway usage in my daily trip, hopefully I will figure out some optimal route before I have to use it (Nov 1).