One of the biggest challenges about China so far has been working out how to transport ourselves from point A to point B without having an accident at point C (point C being anywhere and everywhere between point A and B). This is particularly challenging when it’s just me and Baby A hitting the town.
There are a few options - none of them great.
- Taxis are cheap as cucumbers. The average journey costs me about €2, even if we’re traveling quite a distance.
- They’re also often the quickest way to get around if points A and B aren’t linked directly by public transport.
- Taxis are deathtraps. By law, there have to be seat belts and, in defense of taxi drivers, the belts are always there - but often the things you plug them into aren’t. The middle lap belts are never there and they’d be the most useful for strapping Baby A down as I reckon side-impact is the biggest crash risk (my thoughts are all sunshine and rainbows sometimes…). It’s not feasible to bring a carseat with us when we go out because they’re too big to carry - plus the whole no seatbelt thing kind of rules that one out. The taxi drivers are also, for the most part, homicidal maniacs. They weave in and out of lanes on the motorway, often missing other cars by millimeters. They speed down the wrong side of the street as if laughing in the face of serious bodily injury. They break lights. They appear to make a sport of attempting to run over pedestrians especially when pedestrians are crossing the road at a green man. Being in a Shanghai taxi is not unlike being in Grand Theft Auto, without the theft and without the ‘just a video game’ aspect. They’re also icky - like the petri dishes of the transport world harboring infection and disease in their rickety, sticky unwashed cabeese. *shudder*.
- Do you need more? If the fact that taxis are like rollercoasters with the bolts loosened isn’t enough to rule them out, I have more. They’re impossible to get at rush hour. You can’t book them in advance. The drivers are obnoxious and frequently shout at me if they don’t like where I’ve asked them to take me. I do not like being shouted at, even when I haven’t a clue what they’re saying, I still know that it’s shouting. I want to learn good Chinese for the sole purpose of throwing years of pent-up taxi rage back at them. Just you wait, when I get to the chapter that teaches me the vocabulary to say “you are going to go straight to Buddhist hell for endangering the lives of innocent passengers with the reckless and feckless showboating you claim is driving” I will be hopping into the next available taxi to practice my homework.
- Baby A hates taxis. He won’t sit still in them (considering he isn’t buckled down in any way this isn’t surprising). He keeps reaching for the door handle and screaming his head off which gives the unfortunate impression to passers by that I’ve kidnapped him. Thankfully they’re not too bothered with white women kidnapping white babies here in China. I tried giving him the iPhone to amuse him during one particularly trantrummy journey with the result that he threw up all over me, all over himself and all over the taxi. As luck would have it, the taxi driver was so busy shouting abuse at the world around him that he didn’t notice the sound or smell of baby projectile vomit until after we’d exited his vehicle. By then we were far away and I was comforting a sobbing Baby A with vows that I would never make him get in another nasty taxi again.
- Enough? I think so.
- It’s fast, it’s clean and it’s easy to navigate without Chinese.
- There are only ‘up’ escalators and no ‘down’ ones so maneuvering Baby A and his hotwheels can be tricky. I think I’m setting records for number of steps a baby has been bumped down in a buggy. Most of the time, I lift him out and put him on my hip holding him with one arm while I lift the buggy with the other arm. You try doing that with a 13kg thrashing toddler, a 5kg buggy, flip-flops and wet steps.
- During rush hour, the metro is jim-jammed so the buggy has to be folded with one arm (while carrying toddler who refuses to be put down) and slung over shoulder like sawn off shotgun. With no free hands, it’s harder to control Baby A when he tries to rip the earrings clean out of the ear of the woman standing beside us. Thankfully, they’re clip ons.
- It’s so cheap as to almost be free. Depending on the class of bus, a journey either costs us about 15c or 25c.
- It’s a fun place to hang out and meet old Chinese people. Baby A is a big fan of old Chinese people and they’re exceedingly fond of him - even when he pokes them in the eye. He stands on the seats, shrieks and generally comports himself like the Queen of Sheba in small boy-child form. The Chinese think he is hilarious with his shouting, pointing and general mayhem. They pick him up and pass him round. Sometimes it’s hard to retrieve him when our stop comes up - too much fun is being had on the 8am party bus. As we’re alighting he often waves magnanimously and blows kisses to everyone. He’s going to be so disappointed the first time I take him on Dublin Bus.
- The buses are not buggy friendly so I have to carry Baby A on a hip-shelf or sling. He’s not exactly lithe. The Chinese though are very aware of this and I have always been offered a seat. As soon as I get on the bus, some young Chinese student bounds out of his/her seat and offers it to me. It’s a far cry from the way things are done in Brussels, or even Dublin.
- The stop information is all in Chinese so it can be difficult to work out where you’re going if you don’t read any Chinese. My reading is coming along quite well so it doesn’t bother me so much. I’ve never seen another foreigner on the bus - I think they mostly stick to taxis and metros. Lots of foreigners also have drivers. Sometimes, on my tired days, I dream of being chauffeured about the place by my own private driver but then we’d miss out on all the buscapades and I would miss out on developing my language skills to the point where I could hold conversations like:
- OCP (Old Chinese Person): What a cute girl!
- OCP: Are you sure? He looks like a girl.
- Me: Really? He’s definitely a boy.
- OCP: Does he speak Chinese?
- Me: He doesn’t speak anything. He’s only 14 months.
- OCP: Are you sure? He looks about 3.
- OCP: I think he speaks Chinese. He said ‘mama’. ‘Mama’ is Chinese.
- OCP: (To Baby A in Chinese) Say ‘mama’.
- OCP: He speaks Chinese, I told you.
- It’s free. It’s exercise. Baby A likes it. It’s a good way to discover things.
- It’s not a good idea to do too much of it on a bad air day.
- Crossing the road is like running through no man’s land with a team of robots throwing car shaped rocks at you (see point on taxis, also applies to all other cars and buses). Even when you have a green man to cross the road, cars turning in any direction from anywhere - as long as they’re turning - can drive through the pedestrian crossing. Supposedly, the pedestrians have right of way but there’s no point in playing chicken with a gold-plated hummer when all you’ve got in your defense is the moral high ground and a biting toddler. A few times, I’ve defiantly taken the chance that no-one really wants to run over the foreign mother with the young child but I should probably stop playing Russian roulette with Baby A’s life and just play it safe.
There’s no simple way to get around Shanghai with a toddler. It all depends on where we’re going, what we’re doing at the other end, what the quickest way of getting there is etc. We get the bus every day to and from playcare. We usually get the metro if we’re going somewhere a bit further afield and we walk if we’re within walking distance. It takes a bit of planning and a bit of lifting but it’s always a more interesting experience - good and bad - than life with a driver and car. The only thing I generally don’t do on my own with Baby A are taxis - for reason I have extensively outlined above.
As our Shanghainese estate agent, David, told me once when I asked him if he had a car, ”You know I only use BMW….Bus Metro Walk”. Works for us too.
Cultural Observation Point: While I am always offered a seat on the bus or metro when carrying Baby A, no one has ever offered to help me up or down the stairs when I’m struggling with the buggy. I’ve thought about this and have come to the conclusion that it’s probably because, unlike on the bus or metro, there’s no sign on the wall telling them that they should.