In the last few years I have travelled to some of the busiest countries in the world and visited the most used metros. Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai and New York are amongst the most heavily trafficked in the world. It was fascinating experiencing all of them and comparing how efficient they were.
Tokyo was insane, with hundreds of people politely waiting for staff wielding a u-shaped stick to squeeze people into the cars like sardines. Most of the subway riders wore masks, remained quiet throughout the ride and were as polite as possible under the circumstances. Compared to my experience in China, it was almost hard for me to comprehend, but I’m getting to that…
If you’re returning readers of this blog then you’re probably sick of hearing me whine about the Shanghai metro, please bear with me! The Shanghai metro has over 360 stops and constantly growing. It is super convenient, air-conditioned, ridiculously cheap and surprisingly clean since many people think it’s okay to spit on the ground. The only thing wrong with the Shanghai metro is the passengers.
People on the Shanghai metro only care about themselves and where they are going, except they are also busy looking at their phones so they don’t notice while they hit you in the head, step all over your new shoes and they shove their way on and off the metro as if they are the only ones using it. Every rush hour metro ride that I took got me a new bruise, scratches on my bag and had me contemplating murder – no joke.
For someone who has never experienced it, it’s probably hard to imagine. But nothing ruins your day as much as people who just don’t care about anyone else to the point of acting like animals escaping a wildfire and shoving each other out of the way aggressively (sometimes covered in sweat). When you imagine that there are a billion of these people, it makes you not want to be on this Earth anymore.
“Haha,” people commented on my whiney posts on Facebook, “that sounds just like New York!” Every time I read that, I began to dread my move. I didn’t believe it at first but when everyone I knew in New York kept saying the same thing, I started to think that they might be right. I was very wrong!
The New York subway is the complete opposite of Shanghai. It is dirty, old, not always air-conditioned, it can be extremely inconvenient – for example in Brooklyn, because the trains only go horizontally so you need to go into Manhattan to get from Bushwick to Brighton Beach which is pretty ridiculous.
It is also extremely expensive at $2.75 per ride no matter the destination. Sometimes Google maps will suggest that you transfer in a place where you need to get off the subway and then get back on, which costs you another $2.75! It’s pretty ridiculous.
When it comes to the people, if you think New Yorkers are unfriendly, you haven’t been to Shanghai. The subway can get pretty crowded during rush hour, but people are generally aware of their surroundings. When they pile on into the cars, it’s not quite as organized as Tokyo, but people will make room. In Shanghai you have to push people out of the way because they won’t move an inch and will block off entire areas of free space because they’re too busy looking at their phones to notice it.
Another thing that was really shocking to me was that most New York subway stations have the same place to enter and exit – this would never work in China. People don’t even wait to let people off the subway before they get on. It would be a massacre! I’m not saying that New York is perfect, I actually saw an impatient crowd getting on once before people got off, but one of the passengers yelled “hey, let us get off first” and guess what? They stopped getting on and order prevailed!
It is arguable that the New York subway is more civilized than Shanghai because New York is a much smaller city. Before you laugh at me, Shanghai has 25 million residents compared to New York’s 8.5 million. People in Shanghai are always running and rushing, never helping each other and sometimes New York can be the same, but I’ve never had to carry a heavy bag up any flight of stairs ever, I was always offered help. That never happened in Shanghai… it’s nice to live in a small quiet city now 😉
Earlier on I mentioned Seoul, which is another busy city with a spotless and convenient metro. I would say that the people in Seoul are somewhere in between New York and Shanghai. People are significantly ruder than in New York but less so than in Shanghai. The actual metro is as convenient as Shanghai, as clean as Tokyo (they get money back if they see a spill, etc.) and more modern than both because they take credit card payments like buses in Sweden!
Comparing all the factors, New York is by far the most expensive, dirtiest, least convenient of Shanghai, Tokyo and Seoul. But while rats and dripping walls can be ignored or avoided, people are harder to tune out – especially when they are trying to sell you bags and touching your phone over your shoulder (yes, that happened).
There are definitely crazy people in New York and they do ride the subway. Unlike in Shanghai, these people are the minority. Multiply the rudest person you’ve seen on the NY subway by 25 million and then you can imagine what it’s like in Shanghai.