The saying “the bus doesn’t wait” has become all too popular among Northwestern students studying abroad in China. Perhaps it is because the phrase has turned into one of Professor Gu’s mantras. But perhaps it is also because the bus, more often than not, does indeed wait. Of course, I’m talking about our trusty private bus that takes us on all the tours.
But to this day, it will be never known whether the “bus” that Professor Gu always chirps about is our school bus or perhaps another bus. I can try to shed some light on the matter here.
I suspect that the “bus” Gu is referring to is actually of the many public buses that crisscross through Beijing. Recently, I got to taste what it was like being a commuter on a Beijing public bus.
Following a bustling adventure with my language partner during the day, dusk found us searching for a way back to campus. Before I knew it, we were already rallied at a nearby bus stop. To my dismay, we would have to take different buses because we lived in different areas of Peking University. She had just enough time to hastily explain to me what to do when a screeching halt told me my colossal ride was here.
With my sweaty palms nervously gripped around the bars of the bus, I repeated the instructions in my mind.
Ok, so take this bus for 3 stops and gets off at a place called zhongguanyuan. How hard could it be?
Very, very hard.
It’s very hard because the stop right before my stop is named zhongguancun. Confusing right? Yup, I was bamboozled for sure.
I strained my ears to discern what the muffled broadcast was saying, so when I picked up “zhongguan” I thought I had arrived. It was only after I muscled through the swarms of commuters and stepped off that I realized I had no idea where I was. The minotaur in the labyrinth.
A frantic call with my language partner informed me I should wait for the same numbered bus to come back and ride it for one more stop to get to where I needed to go. My trepidation at not wanting to be mistaken again kept the wait time short. I was already boarding another bus.
This time I tried to shut out the overhead broadcast. I just had to count to 1. Just like kindergarten. Soon familiar scenery passed by in the windows. We were at my stop. At the worst time, I tuned into the broadcast.
“All passengers please exit through the back doors.” Or so I thought. It was in Chinese.
As I raced from the front to the back, the back doors suddenly closed. My only way out was back through the front. But I was going against the current of boarding commuters. Just as I squeezed past them, the driver pulled the front door shut… and began to drive. But that was my stop!
We stopped almost immediately after at a red light. We were still stationed along the curb. I went up to the driver and begged him to open the doors to let me out because I had just missed my stop.
“How did you miss your stop, young man?”
“I thought I heard to go out through the back, but the doors were shut, and I couldn’t make it to the front in time.”
“Well it’s really not fair if I just let you down now. You wouldn’t be safe in this traffic.”
I was thoroughly peeved but I fell mute and let him take me to the next stop.
I biked back to campus through the public bike system, quite angered. How could I be misdirected like that? The curb was right there, why didn’t he just let me off?
I had such a fun time in Beijing, so this incident stands out to me because I haven’t been so irritated in so long. So when Gu says the bus doesn’t wait, I don’t think he’s talking about our tour bus. He is secretly warning us that if one should ever ride the public buses in Beijing, it is an unforgiving scene and there is no such thing as a bus that waits.