Sunday, April 12, 2009

Fast Trains and Google Maps

I now travel several times a month for work. Last week when I flew to Shanghai I landed at Pudong Airport, where I was able to take the maglev high-speed train to downtown Pudong, in only eight minutes. The train reaches a speed over 440 km/hr for about two seconds before starting to decelerate, and a group of passengers stood in front of the digital display, cameras in hand, ready to snap their photos when the train reach its peak speed. This evening I needed to reach Beijing Capital Airport quickly because of time constraints so I took the bullet train from Dongzhimen station in downtown Beijing. The 20 minute trip, covering a shorter distance than the Pudong run, was not nearly so comfortable and wouldn't have saved me much time at all if it hadn't been rush hour and I'd had a good driver.

When my flight reaches its destination tonight I'm prepared to tell a cab driver the city where I want to go, about an hour away, and I have the phone number of my hotel and a pdf copy of a map as backup. The original plan had been for a driver to pick me up from the airport and drive me to the hotel, but the cost turned out to be exorbitant. Last week I sheepishly asked an assistant to email me a copy of the hotel address and a Google map, with all information in Hanzi (Chinese characters), just in case of a last minute change in plans. When a colleague called tonight to ask if I'd have a problem getting from the airport to my final destination by taxi instead of limo I was able to tell her not to worry, I was prepared. Long live contingency plans!

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