-- $25.00 prize
Written by: Tracey-Ann
Gets Off a Bus in Beijing, Eventually
Newly in China, I’m an English
teacher, alone, in sprawling Beijing. I’m heading
for the best place to orientate myself: Tiananmen Square.
A vast pause in the otherwise frenetic city: children
fly kites; backpackers pose for photographs; pedestrians
I like to travel greenly, keeping one
eye on the environment, so no taxis for me. I don’t
want to dump my share of exhaust fumes onto Beijing’s
already smoggy shoulders. Feeling adventurous and worthy,
I board the number 2 electric bus, heading for “who
knows where”, but passing Tiananmen Square on
A bus is so much more real, I tell myself
with pride, this is how Beijingers get around: I’m
not just a visitor, I’m a local. The bus picks
up more passengers. The temperature rises. The journey
speed plummets. So, this is how real Beijingers spend
their time, squeezed in by the busload and sweating.
I soon make another discovery: a bus in Beijing can
never have too many passengers.
the time I realise we’ve already passed Tiananmen
Square, the bus is so full that I can’t even move
off my seat. I venture a foot into the scrum that lies
beyond, but quickly withdraw. I try, twice, to get up,
but it’s impossible. I’m stuck, no hope
of escape, on course for “who knows where”.
I sit penned in my seat. The conductor
kindly nudges me every time the bus passes through a
ticket zone and I pay another 1RMB. I decide she must
be a wraith, how else does she negotiate the lack of
space? I stay on the bus, hoping it does a circular
route but at the end of the line I am shrugged off,
somewhere, an hour outside the city centre.
I don’t think foreigners make it
to this part of Beijing: everyone’s stopping to
stare at me. I cross the road and cars wait for me.
I trace my route back until I find the bus stop. I do
my fair share of staring; negotiating the pavements,
chequered with the grubby blankets of makeshift vendors;
smelling the burnt sweetness of roasting potatoes; grinning
at the locals dozing in the sun, their bicycles casting
I watch this new-found Beijing as though
I’m an explorer just stumbled upon an unknown
land. She’s not just the tourist-packaged sites,
but an incongruous jumble of ordinary lives. She’s
stray dogs, shy smiles, street-cooked pancakes and curious
glances; she’s a shifting, imperfect thing—
The bus arrives. It’s the same one
that brought me here and the driver eyes me as if she
can’t decide if I’m stupid or suspicious.
I take my seat on the bus, primed for action and minus
my foreign reserve. When I’m back at my original
stop, I put my head down, growl a bit and elbow my way
out. I land on the pavement buzzing with my secret glimpse
of Beijing. The doors hiss shut behind me. The passengers
stretch to fill the space.