A museum devoted to one of Shanghai’s airport transport system doesn’t sound like an appealing attraction, except perhaps to the most avid of trainspotters, and first impressions do not dispel this thinking.
A sign on the door says entry costs 10RMB (free for passengers with a Maglev ticket) but a weary attendant waves dismissively at our efforts to pay the fee and declares in English, ‘Free.’
Although the museum promises 1,000sqm of Maglev-related enjoyment, we silently conclude that this is an experience no-one is willing to fork out for.
As we enter, the place is deserted and it seems that even free entry has failed to woo visitors to have a look inside. It’s not hard to see why; for all the talk of a ‘revolution in transportation’ the displays are distinctly old fashioned.
A giant wooden magnet suspended above the floor in the museum’s first section and a sparse diorama in the second area do little to set pulses racing or match the impressive technology involved in the actual Maglev trains zipping back and forth from the station above.
In its defence, the museum is at least informative. There is plenty of detail on the development of the Maglev from its initial conception, by the German scientist Hermann Kemper, to the present day line in Shanghai.
There’s also technical specifications galore for those interested in conducting coils and ferromagnetic components.
Oddly, while most displays have an English translation, there are a noticeable number that don’t. The most striking example is an entire corridor that details Maglev projects around the world, which has full translations for the efforts made in Germany and Japan, but declines to have a bilingual display for projects in countries such as the UK, USSR or France. Perhaps they’re simply deemed unworthy.
At least things become more interactive towards the end of the museum in an area called the Maintenance Base. Here, you can play a clunky computer game that looks like it was developed back in the ’80s. Alas, there are certain barriers to enjoyment.
On the first terminal the mouse is broken, so we can’t even proceed past the title screen. Visitors who do find a terminal that works will need to read Chinese, as the intructions only come in characters. Even if you can comprehend the language, you won’t necessarily understand the game, which is spectacularly unfun.
At the end of the museum there appears to be no exit, merely a side-door signposted in Chinese that lets us through to an earlier section, inducing a moment of panic that we’ll be trapped in this dull museum forever.
In a bid to escape, we loop round and retrace our steps to the entrance where we see our first fellow visitor about to enter – a bewildered man who appears to have made a wrong turn somewhere.
We feel obliged to warn him that the museum is barely worth the eight minutes it would take to ride the actual train and is certainly far less exciting.
By Douglas Parkes