Commuting on the Metro is a crashing bore, so the city is creating some cultural fare. There's a bit of poetry, a mini-series and snippets about the Olympics, Expo 2010, even lonely oldsters.
For the past decade, people have been oohing and aahing over Shanghai's hurtling progress and its monuments to glittering urbanization, especially its Metro lines.
Eight operating lines stretch 234 kilometers and carry about three million people a day. By the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, 11 lines will cover 400 kilometers - a distance that took the New York and London undergrounds a century to achieve.
But commuting is still a crashing bore. Commutes are crowded and noisy, people push and shove. If it isn't downright difficult, the commute is dreary and boring, except for the occasional roaming singer. Still, think how many millions of hours are spent surviving the ride, just getting from A to B every day.
Tunnel travelers need treats to tide them over during their tedious journey, and they are beginning to get some.
Passengers can read translations of foreign poetry, watch cartoons about two kids and Leon the frog, follow a plotless feel-good mini-series, and take in interesting public service posters. Another made-for-Metro mini series is likely this year, and there will be a flood of new posters by top advertising agencies.
Metro culture is well developed in some Western countries that nurture artistic Metro stations, themed frescoes, events and roaming singers. That's still a far way off in China, but it's not the end of the line.
The mini series "A Sunny Day" debuted last November and its 40 episodes recently finished screening in subway cars and on platforms. It's about the daily good deeds and kind characters around the Metro and offices nearby. It received generally favorable reviews, though some found it vapid and lacking plot or real interest.
The series produced by Digital Media Group stars actor Huang Xiaoming and singer Elise Liao.
Huang plays a roaming subway singer.
"The character has a music dream like me," Huang said in an early interview. "He discovers the good nature among the strangers who take Metro lines every day."
Each episode lasts three minutes, about the interval between trains. They were shown four times each hour: It's estimated the series is seen by more than half a million commuters each day. Many Netizens like the light-hearted fare, while some say it's hard to hear over the Metro noise.
In March, viewers can go to a party where they can share their own Metro stories with the cast. Party information is posted in subways and on screens; commuters can send an SMS if they want to attend.
Later this month nearly 1,000 public-interest poster ads will be put on trains and platforms.
The exhibition is co-organized by Shanghai Shentong JCDecaux Metro Advertising Co Ltd and Getty Images, the official photo agency for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
The images are eye-catching, satirical and humorous, designed by 17 global advertising agencies such as the JWT Group and Bartle Bogle Hegarty.
Posters cover aspects of the Beijing Olympics, the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, health tips, the dangers of drinking and driving, global warming, saving water, and the needs of elderly people living alone, among many other topics.
"We hope this special and creative 'gallery' on Metro lines can record the changes in our lives, promote a green lifestyle and arouse public concern about people in need," says Xu Yanfei, deputy general manager of Getty Images China.
Zhang Lei, 26, takes the Metro for nearly an hour each day from her home in suburban Songjiang District to her job at a jewelry trading company in Xujiahui. She says the made-for-Metro mini series is a good idea but the story is too simple.
"It also has too much promotion about its sponsor, a beverage brand," she adds. "In each episode the main characters will drink a bottle of it."
Improvements are expected in the next mini-series. Experts and audiences suggest more suspense and open endings that allow passengers to decide the conclusion, voting by SMS, online or on touch-screens.
Inspired by the mini-series, some young commuters hope to express themselves in an original Metro short film contest, and that's under consideration.
"I can see unhappy faces whenever I take the Metro," says Xu Liang, a 21-year-old college student. "That inspires me to make a short hilarious comedy to relieve their pressure."
According to Philip Wong, spokesman for Digital Media Group, traditional media such as radio, television, print and the Internet still cannot satisfy people living in fast-paced modern society.
"We will present more interactive programs on this new alternative media," he says. "Productions will also be uploaded onto the Internet and there will be instant feedback from Internet workshops."
Professor Gu Xiaoming from Fudan University says that since the Metro has become part of Shanghai life, ingenious subway cultural programs and entertainment have a potentially huge audience.
"It is a good sign that Metro operators and culture agencies are becoming aware of this," he says. "People are likely to feel depressed and tired when the train is running through the dark Metro tunnel."
He suggests immediate living and shopping information in the carriages, and a multimedia tour for visitors.
(Shanghai Daily January 22, 2008)