Every day, Liu Nansheng pulls on his uniform and goes to work with purpose.
His job, directing pedestrians, may not seem too attractive, but it is one in which Liu takes pride.
His workplace, the tunnel under the latest addition to Shanghai's architectural roll of honour the ultra-modern South Railway Station is a world away from his home in the countryside of East China's Anhui Province.
"While the station was being built, I heard it was going to be the biggest in Asia, and then I found out they needed people to work here," Liu said. "So, I traveled to Shanghai to apply last December. In May, they told me I was successful."
Then his eyes flashed as he added: "I'm so happy to be working here. It's an amazing building."
Since the station went into trial operation on June 25, leading up to its official opening last Saturday, Liu has become an unofficial guide for passengers trying to navigate the unfamiliar new complex.
"At the moment, nobody knows their way around, and because the station is circular, it can be a little disorienting, so I'm helping people," Liu said.
For the time being, there is no shortage of people in need of help; during the few minutes he spoke to China Daily, more than 20 people came to Liu with enquiries ranging from where the toilets were to why the public telephones weren't working.
"I get hundreds of people asking me every day, and I really enjoy helping them out," he said. "I feel very lucky to work in such a great place, and I love my job."
Covering around 600,000 square metres, equal to nearly 150 football pitches, the station took four years to build. There are 26 ticket windows, 12 waiting rooms with space for a total of 6,000 people. Above all, it is the first circular railway station anywhere in the world.
Capped with a translucent dome allowing natural light into the station during the day to save on electricity, it glows at night when light from inside leaks out.
"It is a stunning building; it really looks like a UFO. With trees and flowers, it's much nicer inside than I expected," said Dr Lou Weihong, catching a train back to Taizhou after studying at Shanghai's Huashan Hospital.
"It's well connected on metro lines 1 and 3, and you get a good view of the city from the waiting room. I brought my camera with me today specially," Luo said.
Tan Baoquan, another traveler impressed by the building, described it as "an umbrella made of glass."
"It's actually very pleasant waiting here in the new building," he said. "There is air conditioning now, so it is more comfortable than the old Meilong station where the train to Hangzhou used to leave from, Tan said.
"The station is definitely in line with Shanghai's modernization. The old one didn't leave passengers with a good impression. In the new one, people could do with a few more facilities, like more places to get drinks and food, but they should also put some TV screens up to keep people from getting bored," he added.
Designed as a hub linking road, rail, metro and, eventually, maglev (magnetic levitation) lines, the station, which is connected to the Shanghai-Hangzhou expressway, now handles 32 trains a day running to other cities in the Yangtze River Delta and South China.
The Shanghai Railway Administration (SRA) estimates that about 30,000 passengers will pass through the station daily, and, as well as taking passengers from the now-closed Meilong station, a source at the Municipal Urban Planning Bureau estimated it will divert around 40 per cent of passengers away from the main Shanghai Railway Station.
For trains between Hangzhou and Shanghai, the journey time has been cut by 20 minutes to an hour and a half. During the next six months, it will be cut further as trains speed up to a maximum 160 kilometres per hour, from the current top speed of 120.
Now the city's second busiest train station, it should offer improved access to downtown Shanghai for travellers from Zhejiang Province and southern Jiangsu Province.
But there have been some teething problems.
"The main problems have just come from people being unfamiliar with the station, for instance we have had a few people who have bought tickets here, but their trains leave from the main station," said ticket collector Chen Jin, another employee who is more than happy with his new work environment. "They didn't realize that, and they missed their trains.
"The design is very modern, it's more like an airport than a train station, and I'm very glad to work here, but we could do with some more information desks to make it easier for people to find out where they need to go," Chen said.
Although impressed with arrangements for taxis at the new station, one taxi driver surnamed Zhang said the roads around the station were confusing. He also criticized the lack of information.
"They should put up more arrival timetables so we can know when are the best times to come and pick up customers," he said.
Passengers too, although pleased with the new building, were also frustrated at not being able to easily find out basic information.
"I didn't know the trains leaving for Hangzhou had all moved here," said a salesman surnamed Wang. "I went to the old Meilong station early this morning, but they told me that I should come here. I think more notice should have been put up about the change."
Dong Xuwen, taking her son to visit relatives in Hangzhou, was less than impressed by the organization, or the lack of it, at the new station.
"The train timetables were not available on the Internet, so I called the station and they told me there were trains at 11 am and noon," she said. "When I got here, I found out there weren't any trains leaving until 1:30 pm."
Planners at the nearby Xujiahui commercial district are hoping the new South Station will attract more business to the area, both through passing trade brought by train passengers and by companies seeking to locate in an area with good transport links.
Wu Rongjia, manager of a Gong Delin vegetarian kiosk in the station, said the company was paying 16,000 yuan (US$2,000) rent per month, a high price reflecting their prime spot.
"The rent is high," he said, "but we believe being here can bring us a good profit because the transport links here will bring a lot of people. From a business point of view, it's definitely better than Meilong because there are more trains and more potential customers."
Shanghai Normal University student Shen Jie was returning home to Hangzhou, a journey she makes six to eight times a year.
"This place is amazing, it looks just like a big top at the circus," she said.
"At Meilong there was a big ramp and it was pretty hard to carry everything, but here everything is much easier, the new station is much more comfortable. It is clean and it has a really nice environment and is a big improvement. I don't miss a thing about the old station."
Source: China Daily