Bull in China
迷路 mílù (v. to get lost, lose the way)

Lessons learned this week:

1. Don’t trust Google Maps and GPS.

2. Don’t trust the internet in general.

Formula 1 came to Shanghai this weekend for the ninth year. I’ve been planning to go for the past four. This year I finally got around to booking tickets with a group of coworkers.

Jump forward several weeks to last Saturday. I and two other guys from work have gone up early to see the practice, support races and qualifying. The weather was beautiful and the prospect of a day in the sunshine with a few beers was well looked forward to by all.

Prior to race weekend we had confirmed online what we had all been told before by different people – that on race weekends the Shanghai Circuit subway station was closed. It was believed that we had to get off one stop early and walk. So we did.

One of my coworkers had Google GPS on his smartphone showing the route. 4.6km: a fair trek, but doable. We exited the station – Jiading Xincheng – and proceeded to follow the route marked out. Now, there is not a lot happening in this particular area of Shanghai. There are apartments being constructed, but for the most part it’s just empty roads and agricultural land. We headed off along one of these deserted stretches of tarmac, attracting the attention of several migrant builders and rice farmers. Eventually the track turned to mud – strewn with discarded items – and we hit a dead end. The road we were meant to turn onto WAS there, only it was 15 meters above our heads. Google Maps had failed to identify that it was an elevated highway. Not to worry, we thought, we can just follow the overgrown wasteland running beneath it.

No good. Pretty soon we hit a canal that wasn’t on the map.

Had we not been so stubborn we would have simply retraced our steps back to the subway stop. After all, it was a mere 20-minute walk back. But no, we decided to follow the elevated road in the other direction. We passed a dozen or so homeless guys living in wooden shacks, with chickens, geese and rabid dogs running around and oily water everywhere, heading in the direction of traffic sounds ahead. We came across a fence. After finding a way to edge around it – avoiding a couple of open drains hidden dangerously in the undergrowth – we emerged onto the main highway out of the city. Four lanes in either direction. Busy. Dangerous.

We walked along it. For one hour.

Every once in a while we saw an overpass traversing the highway up ahead. On at least one occasion the overpass was incomplete. We had hoped to be find a turning off of the highway. For several miles we slugged along the hard shoulder, seeking a gap in the fence and dense foliage that we could exploit. There were none, except those where no fence was needed as the ground was pure marsh.

Cars coming by honked their horns. A helicopter flew low overhead. Lorries rattled on by with bemused passengers peering from the windows. And we continued on.

Eventually we hit a turn and followed it, believing it to be our salvation. It took us onto another stretch of anonymous, inescapable highway. We could see the circuit on our left in the distance but we never seemed to get any closer. But for ten metres of canal we could have hiked across to it.

We kept each other’s spirits up with jokes, but we all started to consider the real possibility that we might never find a way off this highway. We debated flagging down a passing vehicle and hitching a lift back the way we came, but we obstinately marched on, telling ourselves that there was a turn off ahead.

After one and a half hours of tramping against the traffic we spied a small track leading down the embankment to a hole in the fence. It’s worth a try, we thought, and slid down the slope. Squeezing through the broken wiring, we were overcome with a sense of relief: relief to be off the motorway, relief to be within earshot of the circuit. We could hear the F1 cars on their practice laps and their sound became a beacon. Just head towards the engines, we told ourselves, not knowing how much further we still had to go.

Within twenty minutes we were at the entrance gate, having taken two hours to get there. As we passed through security my coworker had his beers confiscated.

Oh, and a notice in the guidebook we picked up told us the Shanghai Circuit subway station was “open as usual this race weekend”.