Tag Archives: Shinkansen

Cabbin’ It

I felt a bit guilty casting aspersions at Chinese tourists in my last post.  I’ve discussed the phenomenon with half a dozen world traveler friends, and they all hold the same opinion, that Chinese tourists are rude, and—the worst sin of all—they are forever ruining other people’s views in their quest to get the perfect selfie, often with the hateful selfie sticks.

I had this experience in Rome, at the Colosseum.  I was standing at a viewpoint, marveling at the history of the place, when a young Chinese woman stepped in front of me and began preening and pouting for selfies.  She seemed completely unaware that she had ruined my moment and was blocking my view.

Maybe that’s what made it so annoying—it was clear that to her, I didn’t even exist or at best was a detail to be worked around.

“But of course,” I said to a friend the other night at happy hour, “she may not have been Chinese.  She could have been Korean, or American. I never heard her talk.”

“I know,” my friend agreed.  “But there are so many Chinese out there!  So the odds are she was Chinese.  They’re always in huge groups with a Chinese guide, and they barge in front of everyone.”

“I know, I know.  I’ve seen that many times. I was almost knocked into the street in Eton when lived there two summers ago. The Chinese tour groups came along the sidewalk like juggernauts.  It felt like they would have trampled me like a bug if I hadn’t moved out of their way.

“Their guides had a horrible attitude.  But I’d like to think there are polite Chinese tourists, immersing themselves in local culture, speaking a little Italian, but we just don’t notice them because … they’re not doing anything obnoxious.”

“Right.  I hope you’re right,” my friend replied doubtfully.  “Well, we Americans were the bad tourists for a long time, and still are. And the Japanese used to be notorious for taking photos of everything but not stopping to learn anything about what their subjects were.”

“I encountered a lot of horrid, loud-mouthed Spaniards in Germany.”

“And the Brits, especially in Spain, are super loud and trashy!”

We agreed, the Chinese get a bad rap for good reasons but also just because there are so many of them.

Travel used to be reserved for the rich. Thanks to the discount airlines and cruise ships, anyone can invade a beauty place with their braying and bad behavior.

I was on the shinakansen to Utsonimiya.

Oot-sone-oh-mee-yah.  I loved the sound of it so repeated it in my head too many times and now it’s an earworm.

The shinkansen was clean and quiet.  The seat was so capacious I could keep my suitcase in front of my knees.  The ride was smooth enough that the water bottle I set on top of my bag never trembled.

From Utsonimiya I would take a regular train to Nikko.  Then, I had mapped out how to walk from the train station to my lodgings.  There were buses, too, but they wouldn’t go all the way to the Turtle Hatori Annex, and I was nervous about getting on a bus with my bag, figuring out how to pay, getting off at the right place, and walking from there.

I needn’t have worried about any of it.  The moment I arrived in Nikko the skies opened up and the only option was to take a taxi. What a relief!  I didn’t care how much it cost; I had to admit that I just didn’t want to walk or take a bus.

The taxi driver wore white gloves and his seats were covered in white lace.

The inn was twice as far and a much more convoluted route than my guide book or Google maps had led me to believe.  I would have arrived exhausted it I’d walked.

The taxi cost about $9—no tipping expected—well worth it.

I had made my first successful transition from one city to another, the first of nine in the month to come.  After being oriented by the chatty hostess of the inn, I strode out to explore Nikko in the rain.

All Aboard!

I enjoyed my last good breakfast for a while, monitored the messages about my mom, then checked out of the Mielparque Hotel and rolled my peach-colored suitcase toward the station.

I had figured out that, when searching for a station, I should watch for gusts of salary men in black suits streaming forth at regular intervals and walk in the opposite direction.

Today I was taking a bullet train, or shinkansen, to Nikko.  Japan just “revealed” the new Supreme model, which goes 186 miles per hour.  I don’t know how fast the one I rode on went, but fast enough that the scenery was a blur.

First I had to figure out the queuing system for boarding.  You can reserve seats on the shinakansen but I hadn’t bothered to do that, having been assured by the JR Rail people that this train wouldn’t be crowded, it not being tourist season.  The cars were numbered, but how would I know which cars were unreserved? Along the platform about every 10 feet, there were lanes painted on the pavement to indicate where you should line up to board.  They were numbered.  What did the numbers mean?  “1” sounded like it would board first, so I got into a lane marked 1.

The shinakansen arrived, sleek as a space shuttle.

As it slowed to a stop I saw that some cars were marked “unreserved,” and I gave up my space at the head of the line to rush down the track.  I didn’t know how long the train stopped at this station—I had seen some trains spend only 30 seconds at the platform before departing.

I was first in the queue for the unreserved car, when a young woman with a giant bag stepped in front of me.  Had she not seen me?  Was there something about the system I didn’t understand?  So far, I had found the Japanese to be polite and devoted to order in the extreme.

“Excuse me,” I said, “There’s a queue.”  She appeared not to have heard me as she watched down the platform for her boyfriend, who hurried up to join her.  When they spoke I realized they were Chinese.

This would be a theme on the trip, and something I hear about from anyone who has traveled anywhere—that the Chinese do not recognize any system of queuing.  It’s survival of the fittest.  This explained the women I’d seen walking past long lines at women’s toilets, right to the head of the line.  No one had said anything.  I had wondered if there were subtle social cues I just didn’t understand which made it okay for some people to bypass the wait and go ahead of everyone who was patiently waiting, including old ladies and pregnant women.  But now I knew—they were just Chinese.

I can be a nonconformist in many things, but when it comes to lines I’m a law-and-order person.  So I spoke up again, more forcefully.

Excuse me, there’s a queue—a line,” I said forcefully as I jabbed my finger at the eight people who were now lined up behind me.   This time she couldn’t ignore me.  She and her boyfriend didn’t look at me but they moved immediately behind me.  So they were still barging in, but none of the people behind us, most of whom were probably Japanese, had the temerity to say anything.

I’m sure they were all—Chinese, Japanese—thinking, “Americans are so pushy!”  But I was there first, and I was going to get a good seat.  I hoped a few of the Japanese were silently cheering me on.

The doors opened silently and a cleaning crew stepped out and lined up in front of us. They must have boarded another car and worked their way down to ours, at shinkansen speed.  They were dressed in impeccable pink uniforms and had feathers in their caps.  I found these photos of other such crews from a news article.

The crew leader shouted something and they all bowed and smiled at us, then gestured for us to board.

The queue dissolved and a mad scramble ensued as everyone ran for a seat.

Ten seconds later we were off.