One morning, as I was reading a book on the bus on my way to work in Shanghai, an elderly man in his 70s got out of his seat and started opening all the windows. He had a cold and in China when you have a cold, the best remedy is to open all the windows wherever you are, despite the temperatures (just above freezing in this case). When you combine the freezing cold drafts of air with the near constant hacking up of any and all mucus in your body, your quick return to health is assured. Plus it benefits all the healthy people in the vicinity to have a sick man’s bacteria-laden bodily fluids sprayed in their direction while being subjected to arctic blasts of air.
On this day, the man had barely gotten to the third or fourth window, when another–perhaps even older–man got up and started shutting the windows again. Needless to say, this did not make the first guy too happy so he did what any one of us would do in this situation: slap the other guy in the face and start screaming like a lunatic on PCP.
The other guy responded by doing the exact same thing and all of a sudden my 30 cent bus ticket had turned into a front row seat for some UFC action. While they were hurling insults and slapping each other, they were still attempting to open and close the same two or three windows and keep their balance at the same time. They both got tossed around a bit, but stayed on their feet for the most part, which is an impressive feat while fighting on a bus in China.
Inner city buses in China don’t drive, they lurch. Even stuck in a traffic jam, the driver will find a way to make sure anyone not holding on for dear life goes flying. Suppose you have ten meters between you and the car ahead of you and ahead of that car is another and another as far as the eye can see. Clearly, no one is going anywhere. Despite that, a Chinese bus driver will floor the accelerator for seven meters, then slam on the brakes for the last two and somehow find a way to throw a sharp turn in the mix. Every driver, every time.
This being China, no one else on the bus would ever dream of getting involved—they were all suddenly busy sightseeing out the windows with such a focus and determination that they apparently completely failed to notice the fighting men, even when one of the them was thrown onto their laps. Thus it was up to the driver who, on this morning, was a tiny, middle aged woman. It’s not like the men were large—they were typical elderly Chinese men—but they towered over the poor driver. And yet, once she realized the fight wasn’t going to end, she stopped the bus and jumped between our two warriors.
She had already pulled into one bus stop—where a few people got on as the men continued to go at it—but apparently a bus stop wasn’t the ideal place to get out of her seat. No, she waited until she had the bus in the middle lane of a busy, six-lane roadway before she parked it and got out of her seat, cigarette dangling from her lips (directly beneath a no smoking sign, mind you).
Try to picture this situation. You have two old Chinese men (one of them even had the typical mole on his face with about ten centimeters of hair growing out of it—a symbol of good luck) separated by a tiny woman. She had a hand on each man’s chest trying to push them apart and a cigarette between her lips. The men were shouting loudly and still slapping each other over the driver’s head. Eventually, she turned to face one of the guys and started shoving him to the front and out the door. While the remaining guy was busy yelling insults at his vanquished foe over the driver’s shoulder, the man who was forced out the door circled around and got back on the bus through the rear entrance.
His first order of business? Start closing windows. At this point the driver gave up and continued her route leaving the men to continue their row. Two stops later, the guy who was closing windows got off and the other one sat down with a “I showed him, I did” kind of look on his face. Apparently he’d forgotten about the windows, since they were all closed at this point. After a few more stops, I got off and went to work. In Shanghai, even your daily commute can become an adventure.
Photo courtesy of Edz’sta.