A ride in the bus

squishy                  all squashed together

bedlam                   crazy, mad

Buzz                        lots of noise, lots of talk

jostling                  pushing one another

marvel                   think how marvelous it is,  how wonderful, how amazing

pedestrians           people walking on the foot paths

At the moment I am working at Xiamen University, at a new campus. I have an hour’s journey there and back each day, by bus and boat. The last part from the ferry home at night is a very squishy experience.

I take the underground tunnel to the other side of the road and enter the bus station. I need a number 28 bus to get home. It’s bedlam, my bus is not here, and there is already a long queue. There is a buzz as the old yellow and black bus rattles in, and everyone talks at once, jostling for the first place.

 A Chinese bus is not like an Australian bus. It has single seats down the windowed edges and some seats at the back, but most of the bus is used by standing passengers who hang on to anything they can grab.

Each seat has a hand hold, there are hand holds swinging from the roof and quite a few poles from floor to ceiling. The front double hinged door opens, and it’s mayhem with everyone trying to get on first, young and old grab and push and shove, using elbows and knees putting their 1 rmb into the money slot, and running for a seat.

I am not lucky enough to get a seat, and with my backpack on I’m feeling really tired and hot. I look around and marvel at these buses. They must have come off the ark, split plastic seats, floor covered in metal sheets, no luggage racks, no air conditioning, the ceiling looks like it has been worked on by a patchwork quilter, rust here and there, and you would think a gust of wind would tear it apart.

This bus would be on the road from 6 am until midnight with rarely a stop, puffing out black exhaust fumes to all the unsuspecting pedestrians nearby.

The bus moves off stopping frequently to let more people on, then some get off and I grab a seat. I try to get a seat near the back door. I MUST exit out the back doors; I cannot get out the front. The bus fills quickly at this time of the day, and I gradually get more and more squashed. People gradually cram backwards as new ones enter.

I can’t move my legs or feet. I have my nose stuck in some Chinese mans nether regions; I don’t look up to see whose face is at the top. Up there, it is armpit city! The bus is still taking on passengers, now the driver leaves open the back doors so they can stand in the stair well, and its just as well, we need some air movement in here! Mid summer with about 70 people crammed in makes for near fainting conditions.

We come into the train station and a few get off, but more get on. At this point I stand and like a piece of wet soap try to slide through the mass of people to stand by the back door. The bus takes off again, and jams on its brakes as it almost hits a car. Everyone on board jolts, moving as one, everyone pushing their neighbor, hanging on for dear life. We are like a huge tin of oily sardines, all standing on their tails trying to keep their balance.

We take off again, and the next stop is mine. I pull my backpack behind me and try to sidle closer to the exit. The bus stops, the back door opens, a couple get out but I am too far away. “Excuse me! Look out! Make way mate! I yell. (I have no idea how to say this in Chinese), and then the bus starts to move again. “Hoi hoi, wait a mo, hang on mate, whoa!” I yell at the top of my voice. Others, closer to the driver yell so he can hear and the doors open again. I ooze out of the bus, down the steps onto the footpath. (You now understand why I can’t exit at the front?)

I straighten my clothes and grin to myself. This is taking life by the horns and doing something. This is pure adventure, and I love it.

I take a few deep breaths to make sure my lungs still work, and head for home. This is the easy bit, along a broken undulating paved path, round the corner along a short lane to my apartment block, up five flights of narrow, concrete, almost dark stairs to my lovely apartment, to the peace and quiet and a homemade dinner.



Questions for review.


  1. What is happening in the story?
  2. What kind of transport is she using?
  3. Is it summer or winter time?
  4. What number bus does she catch?
  5. How many people are on the bus?
  6. Describe the inside of the bus
  7. Can this person speak much Chinese?
  8. What do you think it means….’armpit city’?
  9. Do you travel on buses?
  10. Explain some funny bus trips you have had.


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