James’ Easy Guide – How to ride a bus in China

There is nothing like riding a bus full of Chinese to get you back with touch with your fellow man. There is always room for one more person. There’s a loud squeal whenever the driver brakes suddenly to avoid a cyclist who is not looking, going the wrong way and going straight at the bus. I have often been that cyclist.

The bus

There are subtle strategies to getting the all-important seat on the bus. The first is to ride at a time when no-one else is getting the bus. There is a crucial window of time from 10am to 3pm. Outside these times, you have to resort to strategy number 2: wait at the back of the bus. This is where most of the seats are concentrated. However, the back of the bus may already be full. Sometimes, the bus is so full that you are grateful for a pole to hang onto.

Actually, the bus does have many redeeming qualities. I am always heartened to see young people bully an older person to take their seat. Bullying means grabbing of arms and a gentle nudge. Things are more polite in Britain, but are we too polite? The old buses are getting replaced with new air-conditioned buses. However, there is a price increase of 3p to 13p.

British bus companies take note, please?

The bicycle that wasn’t stolen

Every Chinese person has had at least one bike stolen in their lifetime, are waiting to have their bike stolen, or don’t own a bike because of a bad knee. This is no different for the English teachers at the Peace Institute (the name of my school). One of them has had two electric bikes stolen, which is not cheap (£100). It is fortunate that bikes are so cheap in China, a good one can be bought for the price of 2 single tickets on the London Underground. The threat of losing your bike does change your bike-buying behaviour. Portable fold-up bikes are becoming popular and people favour old second-hand bikes instead of shinny new ones.

This morning, I stepped outside my apartment and couldn’t find my bike, so I assumed it had been stolen. A bemused resident asked why I was staring at an empty spot for so long, and I tried to explain in very broken Chinese. Then I realised it was no big deal at all. No-one got hurt and the bike was a cheap one anyway. Also bike-theft happens everyday, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t happen to me as well.

My unstolen bike

Losing my bike was likely to be the worst crime that I was going to experience in China. And I do feel very safe here, more-so than in England, where I was mugged twice in the space of a year (in Nottingham). So I forgave the thieves, though I didn’t condone what they did, and went about my day’s business. I was going to find half a roasted duck to eat for lunch.

After going home and eating the duck I went downstairs and had a pleasant surprise when I found my bike sitting inside the apartment block. A kind stranger had moved it inside for me. I felt extremely thankful and happy.

Street Food

When you don’t have much money or time and need something to eat then street food is perfect. This is fried egg with some vegetables and processed meat wrapped in some thin pita-like bread. The outdoor cooks work for 12 hours or longer a day in any weather. I guess the profit margins aren’t great when it costs 17p. The food is exposed to all the air pollution in Tianjin and it could be more hygienic. But I haven’t been food-poisoned yet – bonus!

Friday Night’s Dinner