Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Adventures in the Back of the Bus

This is where I recount the adventures of riding in the Taichung City Transit System to School.

Rule #1: Always know where you are in relation to the next nearest Bus Stop.

This morning I rounded the corner to my bus stop and saw the one thing every bus-rider dreads: my bus pulled away from the stop without me.

Acting quickly, I darted towards the next stop en route. Stalled by a red light. Did I jaywalk? Absolutely. Passing the McDonald's, I slid over the hood of a white compact as it blindly pulled out of the drive-thru (okay, it didn't happen quite like that, but you have to admit the imagery is much more intense that way). I made it the three block run just in time to turn and signal the driver over to me.

Recently, I discovered a new stop closer to my classroom. If I can make it out of class, down the stairs and across the street to this stop within 5 minutes of class ending, I can make it on the first bus to pass. However, if it takes me 8 minutes to get to the stop, two buses will have passed, and I'll need to wait 15-20 minutes before boarding.

After today's ride, however, I may start waiting for the later bus. Apparently, the five minutes it takes me to get to the stop is also the 5 minutes it takes every high schooler in Taichung to show up in hoards at every bus stop along my route home. There were twelve just at my stop. I counted.

Needless to say, I didn't bother finding a seat. Neither did about half of the hoard who entered the bus in front of me. Two bus stops later and I was surrounded by green and blue suits and the stuffy smell of teenagers who are not sure if they're supposed to start wearing deodorant yet. It felt like the courtroom scene in the trial of former-President: cramped, loud, hardly to be taken serious. Green and Blue on every side of me, but no one dared make eye-contact with the other. There were, however, a few points and snickers and forced English words tossed my direction. One bumped me as the bus lurched forward: "Uh, Sorry," his friends giggled behind him. I replied in Chinese. It's funny, but that often causes them to lose interest. I didn't mind.

A few stops down the road, a couple kids in green left the sardine can. You couldn't tell the difference. A buddhist monk approached the bus door. Quietly, though, he turned away clutching his prayer beads. No room for him here. This was to his benefit: I felt as though I was the one who needed the prayer beads.

The Driver slammed his breaks about 12 times in the course of the trip -- about 9 more than normal. I'm sure it was on purpose. Accelerating was brutal. It seemed every red light was an opportunity to fling light-weight high school students towards the back of the bus.

I will say there was a bit of frustration in me when a clearing in the wall of students formed to reveal 4 empty seats. Sure they were all next to that stranger on the bus you don't want to sit next to, but at least the Monk could have had a squat. I moved to the back in hopes others would follow. They didn't.

Making my way back to the front wasn't all that easy either. Though I did enjoy every student saying goodbye to me...

All this aside, the highlight of my bus-filled day was about an hour later when I was passing a bus stop on foot. A little Taiwanese girl - no more than 3 - stood at the stop, holding her grandpa's hand. I glanced behind me and saw the bus approaching. Panic-stricken, she waved her free hand wildly; her brow furrled with worry, "STOP!! STOP! STOP!! SSSTOOPPP!" She cried (yes, in English), as the bus snapped on it's right turn signal. Her Taiwanese grandfather smiled inside himself.

I couldn't help but laugh sympathetically as I passed the little one.

The mishaps and adventures of the Taichung Transit System pays no mind to age, race, language, or political affiliation. It seems even she knows what it is to watch a bus pull away and leave you behind.


Gavin said...

I have had many similar experiences on the Dublin Bus system, its unreliable and overcrowded and smelly. Then I bought my first moped, since graduating to motorbike. I have an inbuilt aversion to buses now. But I've seen your blogs on mopeds in that city so you're pretty much screwed! Or perhaps roller blades....

Geeta said...

I thoroughly enjoy comparing your escapades in Taiwan to those of mine in India. I must say, there are quite a few similarities between our bus riding adventures. & despite them all, we continue to ride the bus. Love it.