It seems like the only bus rides I ever get to experience is outside of the Philippines, China being the place where I’ve had the most bus-ride experiences. From my first China bus ride in Xiamen in 2004, to the few times I had ridden a public bus back in Zhuhai in 2008, bus rides in Beijing when I had to go to school or when I went around a bit, to bus rides in Shanghai and Hangzhou, and even to bus rides here in Xiamen, riding a bus has proved to contain an invaluable amount of experiences. I’ve had my fair share of good bus rides, bad bus rides, and uncomfortable bus rides.
So far, I’d say that Xiamen bus rides have proved to be the most interesting. In Beijing, a subway option was always available for distant locations so the only times I was on a bus was when I would go to school, or the few times I had to go to 中关村 or some other places not directly accessible by subway. Here in Xiamen, there are only 3 options for me when traveling, which is walking, taking a taxi, and taking a bus. Because I’ve been doing part-time work, I’ve had to commute a lot to get to and from various places, often coinciding with people coming back from work. Also, when taxis prove to be too expensive or too hard to get, buses are of course the only other alternative, especially when you need to get to places that are quite far.
During the last couple of months I’ve been here, I’ve realized that no matter how frustrating bus rides can get at times, there are always days where you find out interesting things on a bus.
An example of an annoying bus ride was about two weeks ago when it was the national holidays, which meant one whole week without classes. Because I live near Xiamen University and the Nanputuo Temple, tourists on the weekends, and most especially on holidays, can go up to over 2000, or even more. The worst part being that my area is kind of cut off from the main part of the city, so that no matter how far you walked to get away from the busy area, you’d still be pretty much stuck in the busy area. So during the national holidays, I still had to go to work, but the thing was that finding buses with space was so difficult because of all the out-of-town tourists, and taxis weren’t available, so you had to literally squeeze yourself into the buses if you wanted to go somewhere. One of the buses I take to work passes by a tunnel, and most people who try to squeeze into the bus at my station get off at the next stop (the stop after the tunnel) so as long as you make an effort to endure squeezing your way to the door of the bus, and endure the bus ride through the tunnel which can get somewhat suffocating when people around you carry a certain *ahemsmellahem*, it’s all pretty good and well.
But of course, despite bad days like that, I’ve had good experiences on the bus too. Like a couple of weeks back, I bumped into a bunch of Westerners on the bus, who I got to talk to. I’ve bumped into them a few more times on my way home from work since we take the same bus. I also love the old people who say thank you when I give up my seat for them to take, and how I sometimes meet someone who is much older than me and when I offer them a free seat they turn it down nicely saying that they’re getting off at the next stop. I’ve even had experiences where I offer my seat up to someone older, and they happen to get down earlier than me, so they call my attention and give me back my seat. Even though some Chinese people are really rude, like REALLY rude, I am amazed and touched at the few instances that I see young people being polite, like I’ve seen a couple of them give their seats to pregnant women, or parents with kids, or older people. Another thing that amazes me is the paki-pasa system that Filipinos have in jeepneys, paki-pasa roughly translated as please pass this on. Oftentimes, buses here are so full at the entrance that the only way to get in is to get through the exit, so people inform the driver that they’re getting in at the back and then ask the people between the exit and entrance to swipe their bus card for them, or to deposit their 1rmb into the money slot.
Once, on a bus ride, I spotted a Pinoy yaya (maid) and her alaga (it’s a noun that refers to the child she’s taking care of) who were seated beside where I was standing. The entire time, I was just looking at the adorable kid and wanted to ask if the yaya was Pinoy but couldn’t muster the courage to ask until we were one stop away from my station. She introduced me to her alaga and talked to me about Xiamen, asked me about myself, among other things. It was really insightful and made me realize how Filipino yayas are one of the best yayas in the world because they really know how to take care of a household.
Oh bus rides, even when at times I wish I just had my own car here in Xiamen (even though it would go to waste since I don’t know how to drive, and there’s not many places I go to anyway), taking the bus is so much more cheaper and more convenient, and I get to meet so many different people along the way. It’s not always good, especially when I’m beside someone who smells like they haven’t had a bath in a few days, or when I’m beside someone who is wearing a sleeveless tee and happens to have a lot of hair in their you-know-what, but all-in-all I feel like I’m truly basking in the independent life. Who knows, I might just bump into my next adventure on a bus ride.