Shenyang’s subway is pretty good

I mean the underground mass transport system, not the restaurant.

There are only two lines, one running east-west and the other running north-south. Typically for a (Mainland) Chinese public works project, the lines are called Line 1 and Line 2.

Side note: I can’t understand why the local governments don’t give their public works projects nice names. Roads, hospitals are given bland names like “Hospital #2.” Is it a lack of imagination, or is it intentionally bland?

The subway stations are clean and well-maintained. The system runs like some subways I’ve used: you buy a token based on the distance that you want to travel. When entering the platform, you swipe the token. When you arrive at your destination, you put return the token. The tokens are tagged, and if you need to pay extra, the system informs you.

Because I had never used the system before, I wanted to try it without a crowd of impatient people staring hate-holes into the back of my head while I read the instructions. I thought that Sunday morning would be a good time to avoid a rush of people.


Here’s what my car looked like on the inside.


This, as it turned out, was the less crowded of the trips. On my return trip, there were about twice this number of people.

The trains run smoothly, but they seem to go a bit more slowly than the Washington DC Metro and Taipei’s MRT.

The cost can’t be beat, though. My destination was a place 8 stops away, and the fare was Â¥2 each way, about 32¢. I think that wins the prize for the cheapest subway I’ve ever taken.

One funny little story about my return trip. A man was on the train with his little girl, about three years old. They were standing right next to me, and then she wanted to be picked up. So her father picked her up, and suddenly she was face-to-face with a hairy-faced foreigner. It was probably her first close encounter with a foreigner. She stared and stared at me. I smiled and tried to avoid awkwardness. Her dad thought it was funny, so did I and so did other people on the train. He tried to get her to say “Hello” to me. She didn’t say a word, and didn’t take her eyes off me. Her father whispered something to her, probably something like “That’s a foreigner.”

They got off before me, and as they were exiting the train, the man ran a little commentary to her: “we’re getting off the train now, going home,” something like that. The last thing that I heard was the little girl asking her father very loudly: “but what about the foreigner?”

What about him, indeed?

Local driving habits

Back in the day (late 1980s) in Taipei, one of my favorite things to do was to take a new American arrival to Taiwan on his/her first taxi ride in the city. I would watch the person’s face, and enjoy the horrified expressions as the taxi weaved in and out of traffic, cheating death at least one time for every city block traveled.

With the advent of Taipei’s wonderful subway system, traffic got less crazy, and my fun was taken away from me. I used to miss those good old days.

Then the good old days came roaring back.

Twenty-some years later, living again in a Chinese city, I get another chance to witness crazy driving. I have begun taking a taxi to work, so I get a full dose of Shenyang driving every day. It’s as if the taxi drivers here took lessons from the Taipei taxi drivers from the 1980s.

And the students have become the masters.

I wish I had the writing skills to describe the feeling that I experience when three lanes of cars all attempt to turn left at the same time, into an intersection that was already crowded with oncoming traffic that ran the red light and is stranded in the middle of of the road.

The feeling is sort of like that moment in time when you drop a glass jar full of jelly beans onto a marble floor. Time slows down as you see the glass jar tumbling downward toward an inevitable end. Just before the jar hits the floor, you think to yourself: “well, that was an unfortunate turn of events. This will have some unwelcome consequences.”

That’s the feeling that I get most mornings now.

Who needs coffee to get your blood pumping in the morning, when you have that?

Waiting for my visa

I have my diplomatic passport, I made plane reservations, and everything seems to be arranged for my departure for China. Unfortunately, I still do not have a China visa. And that small detail may derail all of my arrangements.

Right now, I am being optimistic. I am assuming that everything will be fine, the visa will come through in time, and all of my plans can go forward. However, I have to be realistic, and recognize that it’s possible that my visa will not come through in time, and I will have to redo all of my travel arrangements.

One person told me that he got his visa in one week. Another person said that his came through in three days. The official statement is that it can take up to six weeks to get your visa. Six weeks is too long.

The type-A control freak in me is very uncomfortable with not having control over this process.

Immunizations, or “I am a big wimp”

So they have these things in other countries called “diseases,” and if you want to avoid them, you have to get immunized. Mostly that means getting shot in the arm.

All you parents out there, here is a bit of advice: don’t lose your kids’ little yellow books of immunization records. Why, you ask? Well, when Junior grows up and joins the Foreign Service, the happy people in the State Department Health Unit will want to see it to be sure that Junior is all caught up with his shots. If Junior doesn’t have his little yellow book, well, that’s Junior’s unlucky day, because it means that he will have to get re-immunized.

Today, my arms are decorated with four little band-aids from some make-up shots. You will all be happy to know that I am now immune from measles and polio, as well as the more exotic ones like Japanese encephalitis.

I would have had five band-aids, except that I fainted after the fourth shot. So we called that one a “do-over” and rescheduled it for next week.

I have to give a big shout-out to the nurses at the Travel Health and Immunization Clinic at the Foreign Service Institute. They are professional and compassionate, and didn’t laugh at or tease a grown man who fainted just because some puny but live diseases were injected into his perfectly healthy body. If you have to go there for any reason, ask for Elaine, she’s the best.

In the meantime, they gave me a typhus vaccine in the form of capsules to take over seven days. You have to be careful with that. If it isn’t swallowed right away, it will cause my mouth to break out in blisters, and other Bad Things will happen. These pills are so volatile that they must be kept in the refrigerator.

Next week I go back for more, then four weeks after that for the last one. This has not been my favorite week in the Foreign Service.

I keep reminding myself that I volunteered for this, no one forced me to join the Foreign Service, so I have no right or reason to complain.

If a Lakota tribe of Native Americans adopted me, they could name me: “Diplomat With Ouchy Arms.”

Snow Day, 2.0

Today we had a snow day. The big storm that came through last night was big even by Michigan standards. All federal government offices in Washington DC are closed for the day, and that includes our training class. We had a snow day back in January, so this is the second snow day that we have had to accommodate.

This is a problem for the training class, because the schedule is very full, and there isn’t any flexibility built in. The coordinators already had a heckuva time trying to reschedule the classes that we missed on our last snow day. I feel that we just got caught up this past week. Now, with only one more week after this in the training program, I fear they will not be able to reschedule everything.

Tomorrow is Flag Day, the day when our first tour assignments are announced. My family is flying in to DC to be there for the event, and a lot of my classmates’ families are coming in, too. It would be a real shame if the government was closed tomorrow, two, and we had to reschedule the event. Looking at the weather today, I don’t think it will be closed tomorrow. As long as we don’t get anymore snow, I think we will be back on schedule tomorrow.

Assuming the trains are running today, I would like to get out of the apartment and try to do a little window shopping. I don’t like being cooped up in my apartment. Especially when there’s a big city out there to explore.