If you were out and about anywhere along the subway Line 1 route today, you might have noticed that all the stations were open and staff were at the entrances to answer questions from passersby.
The subway is open for a "sneak preview" today, tomorrow, and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for ticket-holding members of the public. (Just over 3,000 tickets were given away this week in a West China City Daily-sparked SMS and QQ frenzy, but it seems the delicate charm of a foreign face can also substitute for a ticket, at least at some of the stations.)
Local TV report
We got on at the Nijiaqiao station and rode to the north end of the line, Shenxian Lake. The ride took approximately 25 minutes. The Nijiaqiao station is currently covered with images of Milky candy icon Peko, and there are spaces for convenience stores that look like they'll be up and running by the time the subway is officially opened.
All bags, including purses, must be run through a scanner before passengers can pass through the entry gates. We're a little frightened at the bottleneck this is going to cause when the subway is in full operation. If it's gonna be like that, best, it seems, would be to shove everything into your pockets and or bra and ditch the bag when taking a subway ride.
Attendants were at every ticket machine to explain how to purchase a single-use ticket. (This weekend only, they'll pay for your ticket, too. You can choose any stop you'd like to go to.) If you've ever been on the Shenzhen subway, you'll understand how helpful that detail is. The machines accept RMB1 coins as well as RMB5 and 10 notes that are "70 percent and above new" condition. A stored-value Tianfu transit pass is also availabe. Children under 1.2 meters accompanied by an adult can ride for free, as can military personnel.
Inside the cars
The subway station design, platforms, and train interior look much like the subways in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong, albeit on a generally smaller scale. Plexiglass safety doors encase the track to prevent passengers from falling or jumping onto the tracks; TV monitors above the platforms display advertisements, the current time, and the number of minutes until the next train arrives. Inside, the trains reek of "new car" smell; a lighted map indicates the current stop and the direction the train is traveling in.
The announcements are all made, as expected, in Mandarin and English, and you might recognize some of them if you're a Chengdu bus rider—specifically, the one reminding us all that it's traditional Chinese culture to offer your seat to the pregnant, weak, sick, ill, and elderly.
Introductory and safety video shown featuring sweet special effects and An An, the annoying panda
All in all, it's pretty much as expected, and the thrill of getting onto the subway wears off after about 10 seconds of being on the train. It's freezing cold from a turbo AC unit, and, were the train open to the public, we surely wouldn't have a seat. None of the stations seem to have much in the way of distinct themes or decor, not even the much-touted seven-story Tianfu Square stop.
Nonetheless, the West China City Daily is hailing the subway as turning Chengdu into "an international city" in which one can "often see flocks of blond-haired, green-eyed foreigners" on the street.
Regardless of whether you're a foreign traveler or a local, riding the subway should present no obstacle whatsoever. Take the subway stations, for instance: At every station, the signs are in Chinese and English, and even have numbers. Foreigners, even if they're illiterate*, can easily understand at a glance.
*We're inferring this to mean "cannot read Chinese," but the direct translation is "illiterate."
The subway doesn't officially open until October 1, but if you happen to be near one of the stops this week, you might as well try to charm your illiterate self onto one of the trains.
7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
(There goes everybody's dreams of drunken subway riding)
Up to 6 stations - RMB2
7 to 10 stations - RMB3
11 or more stations - RMB4
Stations, north to south
North Train Station
Renmin Bei Lu
South Train Station
Haiyang Ocean Park (not yet open)