I live in Kunming, but commute two or three times a week to work in the suburbs outside the city where all of the new university campuses are located. Getting to Chenggong takes about an hour, but thankfully the university has a convenient bus system that transports teachers between the main campus in Kunming, and the new campus in the suburbs. The bus ride doesn’t really bother me much. Usually I just listen to music, or put on my neck pillow and doze off for a few extra minutes of sleep. However, my bus ride the other day was one of the most exciting rides yet, for all the wrong reasons.
You see, there are some “new” busses that are comfortable coaches with clean seats and plenty of room for your legs. There are also some smoke-belching old busses that are literally falling apart– cramped seats stuck in the reclined position, seat cushions that fall off, and windows that wiggle open as the bus rattles down bumpy roads, and even some windows that are jammed open. These busses need to be retried from service, but until they literally fall apart, I fear that they will keep on chugging along. One morning, on a bus that is wayyyy past its glory days, passengers in the back smelled some plastic burning, screamed that there was a fire, and the driver had to stop the bus on the side of the highway to check if the engine was on fire. It wasn’t, so he shrugged and kept on driving, despite the noxious fumes. This is China.
It’s totally random as to which bus leaves at which time, so every morning I cross my fingers hoping that I get a “good” bus. (Wind howling in my ears through a crack in the windows at 7 am is not my cup of tea…) The other morning, I got the WORST bus, #21. The seat across the aisle from me had a window that didn’t shut. It was open a good 4-5 inches, which means that as we were speeding down the highway, wind was gushing in.
The man sitting in that seat seemed ok at first. He tried shutting the window, without any success. He tried positioning the ratty curtain over the open space to block some of the air. Unsuccessful. He tried leaning forward to position his body furthest away from the wind. Unsuccessful. He was getting visibly agitated, and all the sudden, 45 minutes into the ride, yanked the curtain off its hooks, which let out a loud ripping sound. The driver shouted, “Hey! What did you do?” in his gruff Chinese man voice. The man in the seat replied that he was cold and the window wouldn’t shut. The driver abruptly pulled the bus over (on the side of a busy highway), walked back to the man’s seat and used as his strength to try and get the window shut. After a few minutes of struggle, he succeeded in jamming the window open EVEN WIDER. The man was clearly not pleased, and wrapped the curtain around his head for the remaining 15 minutes of the wind tunnel bus ride. I had to laugh. It was a very absurd, sad and frustrating situation, but it was too early to really get mad about it. Instead, I tried to concentrate on how soon we’d be at the Chenggong campus and amuse myself with the assortment of stickers carefully placed on the seat back in front of me. Was this bus used for a field trip yesterday?