I stir in my bed, slowly becoming aware of the world around me. Sunlight leaks in through a slit of cloth, the window to my right barely showing the break of day. I turn over in bed and check the time on my alarm.
Having hit the sleep button a few times already, my half-awake mind decides that it is time enough to wake up. I throw myself out of bed with as much determination as I can muster and get dressed while staring out at a bright, smog-filled sky.
I slowly tie my only tie around my neck, gathering my keys and phone while locking my door. Still wiping the sleep out of my eyes, I head out of my dormitory building and unlock my bike.
I paused before hopping on my bike and took a deep breath — I need to wake up a little more before I take on the Shanghai streets.
As I make my way through Shanghai’s Yangpu District, I swerve between a pair of electric motorcycles and look over my shoulder just in time to move out of the way of an oncoming bus. Though it is still only seven o’clock in the morning in Shanghai, the streets are bustling. I bicycle into the Fudan University campus and begin to dodge pedestrians — a relatively safe endeavor.
As I pull out of the Fudan campus and into the center of Yangpu, I find a spot that looked relatively safe to park my bicycle —Shanghai is notorious for bicycle theft, and many locals will tell you that even using two locks is not enough. I’ve been lucky so far with only one, so I chance a theft by locking my bike up away in a fairly populous area. The sounds of car horns and pedestrian traffic surround me as I pull my headphones on and walk down into the subway stop.
I shuffle in to the 10 line of Shanghai’s metro system and join the flow of human traffic. Despite wide, open halls that put Boston’s T stops to shame, the amount of people trying to get into Shanghai’s downtown fills up the underground maze. The stop, created along with the rest of the 10 line four years ago, is remarkably bright. I’ve become somewhat used to the intensity of Shanghai’s modernity, but the subway’s speed, efficiency and cleanliness never cease to amaze me.
The throng of passengers I’ve somehow become ensconced in makes its way through the stop. I press my backpack through a security checkpoint guarded by stern officials and clutch at my wallet, pressing my transit card onto the entrance gate. My fellow travelers and I make our way into the depths of the subway stop where we attempt to catch the train.
In the typical, Confucian Chinese system of order and place, single-file lines form to board the train at every possible entrance. The train, nearly 10 times the length of a typical green line T trolley, pulls up. I push forward as quickly as possible in an attempt to press my way onto the already-crowded train; alas, the doors close before I can get near enough to the car and I content myself with enjoying the discomfort on the faces of the lucky passengers who made their way onto the crowded car. I’ll catch the next one.
While on the train, I count my blessings and remain glad that I’m not claustrophobic. I’m pressed on all sides by a crowd, a horde of commuters all trying to do the same thing that I am: get to work. In a city of 21 million people, it sometimes feels like ALL 21 million people are crammed into the same train. As the tallest rider on the train I am blessed with the opportunity to breathe rare air — directly to my rear, however, an elderly woman elbows me in the back as she turns around to prepare to exit the train.
Of course, getting off of the subway in Shanghai is just as much of an art as getting on. Passengers from the train flood (or trickle) off while boarding passengers wait patiently until there is sufficient room to load on. However, as soon as the boarding begins all bets are off as everyone mercilessly tries to shove their way onto the train.
I transfer one line to another through a similar crowd, trying to temper my usually quick walking pace against the more methodical movements of the crowd around me.
Patience is a virtue, I’ve heard.
The next train I board is as packed as the first, so I’m thankful to reach my stop and head outside. The air may not be “fresh,” but I’ve made it through another morning commute downtown.
Tate Gieselmann is a College of Arts and Sciences junior studying abroad in China. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.