A granny’s’s shopping trolley is digging into my knee, but I can’t move. My stop is coming and I need to get to the exit blocked by hoards of passengers. It is 17.45, peak rush hour in Beijing and I want to get back to the hostel. At Tiananmen East station crowds push onto the bus through the center doors, blocking any view I have of the window.
The electronic marquee at the front of the bus offers some clue as to which stop is next. These were installed in 2007 when the buses were redesigned in preparation for the 2008 Olympics. The system has come a long way since its humble beginnings as a single nine kilometer trolley route in 1921. By the mid-1980s, the buses had started to form a reliable network, with routes connecting the suburbs with the central areas, express buses co-coordinating with slow buses and night buses with day buses, providing round-the-clock transport for Beijing reisdents.
As the bus pulls into my destination,the crowd in the aisle shifts and people prepare to leave through the back doors. The trolley is rammed further into my leg. Although there are over 800 bus routes to choose from, it feels like half of Beijing has chosen this one. With 13 million bus journeys taken every day, it stands to reason that peak time journeys will be packed.
No amount of wriggling will get me to the back doors. I see that the only exit I can reach is the middle door. On the other side, a mass of tired commuters, are clamoring to get onto the bus.. Do I break the rules and push through the street crowd? Or do I struggle with the crowd inside and risk an eternity in the aisle? Catching the eye of a small child who stopped crying to stare at my foreign white face, I notice several other passengers also looking on intently. Not only am I stuck, I’m also a source of great interest.
I confront the street mob and am met with loud calls, evil glares and elbows in my stomach .One dizzying minute later I am free of the jostling. The bus pulls away and I take a deep breath. Was it worth it? Not really. Next time I’ll allow the time to shuffle my way to the front or back and exit with everyone else. After all that is the protocol.
Tip: Don’t get off the bus through the center doors unless you don’t mind pushing through an oncoming crowd. Give yourself time to navigate the crowds to your exit.