Chinese bus ride

Several years ago I met a couple who taught English as a second language in China. Jody Smith writes occasionally about her experiences of living in modern China. Recently, she and her husband decided to make adjustments to their budget. One cost cutting measure was to take more buses and fewer taxis.
She gave me a glimpse at the challenge of taking a bus. Twice a week, Jim Smith, her husband, teaches design at the Architecture University. To catch a bus to go to his classes,
“Jim leaves our house at 7 a.m. to catch the No. 501,” she wrote. “If he gets on before 7 a.m. there is no crowd. Once downtown, he changes to the No. 33. It takes about 50 minutes to get to his university. If he gets on it before the morning rush to work, he can sit all the way there. The cost difference is 30 cents to take the bus, $5 dollars to take a taxi.”
“Several weeks ago we decided to use buses going to our Friday evening church group. We didn’t get seats and had to stand over an hour. This is not just standing – it is called ‘bus surfing’ because as the driver weaves or comes to abrupt stops passengers do lots of swaying and losing their balance. We arrived at the church exhausted and decided in the future we would splurge and ride a taxi to church.”
“A bus stops directly in front of our apartment complex. Over the summer changes were made to the bus stops. Before, everyone stood waiting on the side of the road. When a bus came, we all rushed up and crowded onto the bus, with lots of pushing and shoving. There are absolutely no lines, just chaos. Most Chinese are really good at this, but I was raised a polite American, so I don’t push. I believe if I stand in line, my turn will come.”
“Often during rush hour, the buses are already full, but once on the bus, you have to squeeze into a slot. A slot, not a space. It is rather like being tightly sandwiched between strangers with lots of stepping on toes and embarrassing pushing and pressing of others. At least, I am always embarrassed when I have to bump and smash into someone or step on their toe.
But over the summer, signs went up that read, “Society should be cultured, standing in lines is cultured.” At each stop, big white lines were painted with the bus numbers so we all would line up to wait for the buses. It is a nice idea, but this system isn’t going to work. Many times, I have opted to wait for the next bus when I saw the faces smashed against windows of approaching buses and people around me heading for the bus.”
“That’s one reason we are tempted every day to use taxis. I am sure you have heard of all the cars being purchased in China. It is just a drop in the bucket compared to the number of people that ride buses. Many newer areas of town are not getting new bus stops because most of the new residents want to buy cars. We are able to get almost anywhere in town from where we live using buses. For that I am grateful – even if it means I am crowded while saving money taking the bus.”
(Joan Hershberger is a reporter at the News-Times. E-mail her at