Ride Like You Want to in China

by Brian Glucroft

Recently on this blog Lizzy Bennett shared her thoughts and tips on riding a bicycle to work.  I'll use it and a variation on her post title (thanks Lizzy!) to pivot to a related topic -- the diversity of methods for travel in China.

To highlight how varied transportation options can be, I'll point out just some of the methods I used to get around in Xiapu, Fujian, a small county of about half a million people containing numerous fishing "villages".

One day I took a motorcycle taxi to get to some villages nearby.

mototaxis.jpgMotorcycle taxis waiting for customers in Xiapu

Since this particular trip included some winding roads on steep hills, very rocky surfaces, and some other hazards, it was a bit of an adventure.  No harm done, though, as I had no problem leaping off the motorcycle as it fell after getting tangled in some fishnet (the motorcycle was thankfully moving slowly at the time). 

Motorcycle taxis are very common in many places in China and can even be found in Shanghai (often to take people to locations that are not immediately convenient to bus & metro stations).  Typically the rides are much more mundane than one I described.  A big appeal of motorcycle taxis is the price -- they are significantly cheaper than a taxi.

On the day I left Xiapu I took an auto-rickshaw from my hotel.

autorickshaw.jpgAuto-rickshaw waiting for customers in Xiapu

They usually aren't as cheap as motorcycle taxis, but they can come in handy when you are with a group people, are carrying something, prefer riding on more than two wheels, etc.  Like motorcycle taxis, they are also found in many areas of China, including Shanghai (although I suspect many foreigners who visit Shanghai for a short time never see one as they are not common in the city center).

To where did I take the auto-rickshaw?

To the high-speed rail station.

highspeedrail.jpgHigh-speed train arriving at Xiapu Train Station

As has been much discussed in the US, China is rapidly building a massive network of high-speed rail.  I've used several different lines and it can be extremely convenient (and of course fast).  There's been some discussion about low ridership numbers.  While I noticed many empty cars on a train I rode from Shanghai to Wenzhou, on other routes I've found trains with many passengers.  In fact, when I arrived at the train station in Xiapu I was disappointed to find out that I would have to wait about 6 hours for the next available seat to Quanzhou.  The other several trains passing by were already full.

From a rider perspective, China's variety of transportation methods offers the benefit of providing a wide range of choices to fit riders' needs, finances, time, etc.  I'm not aware of anywhere else in the world where it can be typical to take an auto-rickshaw to a high speed rail station.  One take-home point is that when you read the news about China's shiny new high speed rail lines and you feel a tinge of jealousy (as I think you should) remember that it is only one piece of a very large transportation network -- much of which, for better or worse, isn't as shiny.

Based in Shanghai for over 4 years, Brian Glucroft has worked as a researcher in the user experience field for online services, electronic devices, and software companies, including Microsoft China, and has a new blog at Isidor's Fugue.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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