So far we had been lucky in our travels. A driver met us at the airport to take us to a homestay. We caught buses or local transportation to navigate cities in Indonesia and Malaysia. In China we put our local transportation skills to the test.
We used trains, metros, buses, and taxis mostly throughout China. We only took two plane rides.
We found that, with the exception of air travel, everything was very prompt. Trains arrived and departed as scheduled and buses left promptly, if not a minute early.
That said, there were some challenges. With few exceptions, the concept of lining up and waiting your turn were not common. In a train station in Guangzhou, people pushed and shoved, and cut to get through the turnstiles to train platforms. I remember seeing a screaming boy who got left behind with the parents on one side and him on the other. Even though each train had assigned seating, people shoved and pushed to get in first.
The metros in all the cities we visited were new and worked great. At times it was pretty crowded with everyone squeezed in tightly.
City buses were similar. Drivers would stop and often start driving before feet were fully on or off the bus. There was no waiting patiently until everyone were seated. Sometimes passengers had to yell at the driver because he had left a stop before they could get to the exit. A special challenge for local buses was that there were many different terminal stations. Sometimes, there were competing stations that had slightly different routes.
China took security seriously. To enter a train, metro, or bus station you had to go through security check. All bags were screened while we walked through a metal detector. Then a metal detecting wand and a pat down. Every time this happened. At airports, train and bus stations we also had to go through a passport check. In addition, after going through that security, I was approached several times at various locations for additional passport checks where they took pictures of my passport and me. On two occasions, additional luggage checks were done. On the high speed trains, conductors walked up and down the isles with a metal detecting wand scanning the luggage in the overhead racks every 30 minutes. Also all entries to Unesco Sites and National Parks required passport checks, metal detectors, and luggage scans.
Most security check involved picture taking and in some cases finger prints.
A lot of people smoke in China. Or maybe a few people smoke a lot. Either way this make things hard when travelling. The bullet trains did not allow smoking on the railway. The penalties were stiff and enforcement tight enough to keep people from smoking while on the train. However the moment it stopped at a station, groups of people flooded off to power smoke. Consequently, when entering or exiting the train we had to navigate the tobacco fog banks.
We took one sleeper car train from Langzhou to Chengdu. It looked like luxury but smelled like an ashtray. The no smoking rule was not in effect. Our section had nine kids, and still adults would take turns at the smoking section near the bathroom. The smoke filtered in through the vents and through the unsealed doors. Sharleen read that we should take duct tape to seal the vents. But the vents were by the baseboard, all around the sliding door, and had vents along the complete roof of the cabin. It was not possible. All of our throats burned by the end of the 11 hour ride. We had another long haul train ride from Chengdu to Heikou. In that train there was a smoking section. However, they smoked with such frequency that the train cabin was hazy.
Over thirty days in China, we traveled over 10,000 kilometers spending over 80 hours in various modes of transportation (equivalent of going from one end of the US to the other and back again). A benefit of this was getting to see a large swath of China’s countryside. It was diverse and beautiful. There were no sprawling monsanto farms, ranch lands that went on to the horizon. Nor was it city to city. However, wherever there were people, the land was being used. There was very little unused land.