home . briefing . index . books

Train ride to Suzhou

April 12, 2004

< < previous | next > >

We were sitting in a huge waiting room at the Shanghai train station, watching a giant-screen TV that was playing a colorful music video of a woman singing a traditional-sounding Chinese song, mixed with slo-mo sequences of smiling peasants striding down a road and soldiers feeding children. There were maybe 1,000 or so people in the room, and half of them seemed to be staring at us. Occasionally, the loudspeaker would announce a train, and several hundred folks would get up and crush into a mass, pressing against the gates that would soon open to let them rush towareds the train.

"It's not as if we're being irresponsible," I said to Jen, eyeing a dozen people who were staring at us as if at any moment we might turn into birds. "It's not like we're taking our kids into the middle of China, into the desert. We're just riding a train out of Shanghai, to a little suburb, still well within the radius of Shanghai's tourist track."

"Yep," Jen said, "and we're still scared to death."

As we got off the train in Suzhou, a city famed for its old gardens, fortune acquainted us with James from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's office in Shanghai. He was showing two newlywed friends around, and he didn't seem to mind us tailing along as he navigated his way through crowds, to a small office on the side of the station where he wisely bought return tickets to Shanghai that evening -- an important bit of foresight, without which we would have been forced to spend the night in Suzhou.