Municipal museums. Shanghai keeps setting 'em up; I keep losing hours of my life to oversized LED screens and pointless dioramas. A museum devoted to Shanghai's public rail system sounds like it would be a banal, bureaucratic game of self-celebratory grab-ass. It is, and it’s not bad.
The Shanghai Metro Museum
is located near Ziteng Lu metro station. That’s largely uncharted waters, where they have landmarks you’ve never heard of, beyond the point where Line 10 splits and most trains head off to the Hongqiao transport hub. Don’t do that. Take the southern branch towards Hanzhong Lu. You’ll find the 3,000 square meter museum built high over some non-metro train tracks, and surrounded by cranes aggressively advancing retail’s front line.
An employee told me the museum will eventually be part of a shopping mall, like the rest of Shanghai. That employee is William Wang. Here he is playing with a floor-sized interactive metro map. Select your favorite stop — say, Jing’an Temple — and bam, there it is. More of a Hongkou Stadium lady? Hey, that’s there too.
The reason you should know William is that this museum has some weird-ass hours. It’s open to everyone on Tuesday. It’s also open Wednesday through Friday, but only for group bookings, unless you know William that is. Email him a day or two in advance — email@example.com — and he’ll get you in. Tickets cost 15RMB.
Once inside you’re in for a treat. Dio-fucking-ramas. Here’s what looks like a Line One train passing over a Line Two, minus the gauntlet of zombies you have to run when you transfer at People’s Square.
The metro museum’s scale models depict some of China’s top metro-takers — 1940s Anglo-Americans. That gal on the right looks like she stepped out of a US army World War II propaganda poster. Get to Zhongshan Park? We Can Do It!!
Well, not all of us. A pair of empty shoes serves as a memorial to the metro suicides that took place before those preventative Perspex guards went up.
This here is one of the diggers used to excavate metro tunnels. It looks a lot like that pedal-powered killing machine
from the film Labyrinth
, with a conveyor belt added at the back for extracting your pureed Jennifer Connelly.
And this is Mr. Dong. He hasn’t done the month or two of training needed to drive real metro trains, he says, but “of course I want to!” He let me drive the sim a few stops, and it’s tougher than you’d think. Unlike a car’s accelerator and break, which are both responsive to a broad spectrum of pressures, these trains just have three acceleration settings — go faster, hold steady, and go slower — which helps explain why trains sometimes miss their marks.
I tried to get the simulator to jump the tracks, but if you exceed 80km/h the whole things shuts down and comes to a halt. You have to hit a restart button before you can accelerate again. You also can’t exceed slower speeds as you enter stations. The horn is pretty cool though.
This guy at the Longcao Lu Station didn’t like my driving. Dude should really tuck his shirt in before he comes at me.
It wouldn’t be a metro museum without a working model train set. This is a simplified version of Line 4. Not very accurate — it’s above ground, and never passes under the Huangpu — but neat enough.
Ever wonder how the maglev worked? Magnets. You read it here first.
One of the museum’s best and least edifying exhibits is this 5D cinema (10rmb). Starting on a regular metro track, you plough through rock walls, battle bats and a giant tarantula, plunge underwater, get sexually assaulted by a stingray, and eventually fight your way past seagulls to arrive at a hovering Shanghai sky city. Guess that solves the city’s sinking problem.
The 5D cinema marks a dark turn in the story of the Shanghai metro museum. Here’s a display of what to do when the train catches on fire: Get the fuck onto the escalator before someone blocks your escape with her stroller.
An interactive touchscreen game is a real hit with the crowds. Touch all the dangerous materials. A tactile people, the Chinese.
Here’s a real head scratcher. Jia Zhangke can’t get his movie A Touch of Sin played in China (too many sensitive issues, including a high speed train derailing), but the Metro Museum has what looks like courtroom sketches of all kinds of transport disasters.
A gift shop helps ease any anxieties brought on by the disasters section. There are metro mascot Changchang cushions (78rmb), a metro map umbrella (58rmb), pencil cases (48rmb), a rug (150rmb), a shanzhai metro Monopoly set, soft toys (38rmb), caps (40rmb) and a lot more. Weirdly, you can’t buy any metro cards.
Except for some videos of bespectacled bureaucrats in short-sleeved white shirts, that’s about it. Could’ve been worse, right?
For a listing of the Shanghai Metro Museum, click here.