A few weeks ago, I wrote an article entitled Traveling by Bus in China. Some of you may noticed a glaring omission in the article, which mainly focused on long distance bus travel. I did not include information about traveling locally by public bus in China. Why not? Mainly, because I think that this aspect of traveling in China deserves an article of its own.
Public buses in China can be fun and exciting but they can also be miserable and dangerous. Last week, while I was traveling from one campus of my university to another, the bus that I was on came to a screeching and rather terrifying halt when a taxi pulled out in front of it. I was in a standing position but as usual, I was hanging on for dear life so I managed to stay on my feet. Half-a-dozen other people, however, were not so lucky as they went flying towards the front of the bus and landed on the floor. No one was hurt but people were screaming profanities at the driver who looked as if he could care less.
The key to enjoying a safe ride on a public bus in China is never letting go of the yellow bar or a swinging handle and knowing where your belongings are at all times. Depending on what city you are traveling in, you could very well find yourself packed into a bus like a ‘can of sardines’ with many dozens of people who are constantly getting on and off the bus. If you have to travel on a crowded bus, it is important to move towards the back or find a place on the sides so that you are not always being pushed down the center as new passengers enter. Again, as you move around, it is important to always have a grip on a bar, handle, or seat because you never know when the bus may come to a sudden stop.
If you happen to see a person vacate their seat in front of you, do not wait for someone else to ‘gobble’ it up. Unless you are competing with a pregnant woman or an elderly person, feel free to sit right down and give your tired legs a rest. Where I live, having a seat on a bus is a luxury and I am very thankful everytime I have the chance to sit down and be out of the way of the constant stream of people coming and going. Always be on your guard though. Public buses in China are magnets for thieves so keep your bag close to your body and your wallet in a place that cannot be easily accessed by probing hands. Wearing a backpack on your back in a bus is asking for trouble. Amidst the noise and confusion, it is easy for someone to unzip your pockets or slash your bag with a knife and quickly remove contents.
When it is almost time for you to exit the bus, you should start moving towards the back door, especially if the bus is crowded. If the bus doors start to close or the driver steps on the gas before you have a chance to place a foot on the ground, feel free to yell “Xia Che! Xia Che!” which means “Getting off the bus! Getting off the bus!” Do not be bashful. Yell with a loud voice. You do not want to get hurt or miss your bus stop.
Even though a taxi may be more comfortable to travel in, a public bus is definitely preferable. For one thing, a bus fare is much cheaper than a taxi fare. It only costs 2 RMB to go from the south part of my town to the north. The same trip by taxi would cost around 40 RMB. Buses are also relatively safer than taxis, because they cannot move as fast and provide more protection should you be involved in an accident. Bus drivers in China are perhaps just as crazy as taxi drivers but their vehicles carry too much weight to perform the same dangerous maneuvers that taxi drivers routinely make on the roads in China. Last week in my city, a taxi driver was killed instantly when he lost control of his vehicle and smashed into a tree. Buses may be slower and more inconvenient in China but they are my preferred way of getting around in a city here.