SPEEDY DEPARTURE: A foreign visitor poses next to a bullet train in Shanghai (CFP)
The transportation system in China has experienced monumental development over the past few decades as the country continues to accelerate into a new era. In recent months, I have experienced every mode of transportation possible in the world's most populous country: from taxi to plane, bicycle to tuk-tuk, subway to bus. All of these experiences left me impressed and satisfied.
To provide reliable and fast transportation to the people of a country with a population of over 1.3 billion is by no means a simple task. Holidays such as National Day and Spring Festival (Chinese Lunar New Year) put a huge strain on the resources available. Chinese officials estimated there were 740 million trips made throughout the weeklong National Day holiday on October 1-7 alone.
China's transportation system has come in for its fair share of flack in the past: over-crowded subways and buses, unhygienic trains, delayed flights, and even dangerous taxi drivers! However, in light of my recent experiences, I believe China's transportation industry has been working hard to accommodate as many people as possible, while doing so in a controlled and organized manner. People sometimes forget how hard it must be, especially during national holidays, to keep commuters happy and have every single bus, train, subway train and plane arrive and leave on time.
When I put it in contrast with the transportation of my home country in the UK, more often than not, I was left waiting for a delayed train, bus or flight. It's always easy to pick out the faults when traveling around China; time spent queuing, sitting in waiting rooms, jostling for position or sitting next to a crying baby can drive even the most patient people barking mad. However, if you position yourself away from the negatives and look at what an impressive service China is providing for its people, it dawns on you how well run the transportation operation is.
My recent excursion from Beijing to Ningbo was seamless, delay-free and very enjoyable. Starting from my apartment in Beijing, I picked up a taxi straight away and arrived at the train station in excellent time. The station was equipped with everything and anything you might need to prepare you for a long-distance journey: clean bathrooms, free drinking water, coffee shops and restaurants, and, most importantly, mobile phone charging stations. I boarded the train 30 minutes before departure, meaning there was no mad rush among the hundreds of passengers waiting to board. Tickets were checked professionally and swiftly. As with every time I've been on a fast train in China, I was thoroughly impressed—very clean-cut, welcoming staff and plenty of room to maneuver. The seven-hour journey went by quickly with staff members constantly parading through the carriages asking customers if they needed any food or drinks.
I'm not usually a good traveler and I find it difficult to sleep on any mode of transportation. What I have taken away from these recent experiences is that I'm more than happy to travel around China, even during the so-called "busy" times, on many different modes of transport. Considering how far China has come in such a short span of time, I find it remarkable one can travel from Beijing to Shanghai by rail in only five hours. These high-speed rail networks weren't even in place 10 years ago, yet now, bullet trains shuttle along at 300 km per hour connecting all major cities in what is a vastly populated country.
It's not only trains that impress me so greatly. The subway system in Beijing is one of the most efficient, clean and reliable I've ever been on—and that includes London, Tokyo, Paris, Shanghai and Hong Kong. China currently has 20 cities with a subway, and this is expected to grow to 30 over the next 10 years—highlighting the country's ever-growing development in the transportation field.
When I first arrived in China, I was hesitant, to say the least, about traveling around. The horror stories of traveling during Spring Festival were bad enough to give even the most dedicated travelers some doubts. However, as I travel more extensively in this magnificent country, my experiences have gotten better with each new adventure.
The author is a Briton living in Beijing