An American in Chengdu

The bus | October 1, 2010

In mid-September, I started Chinese classes at a university on the western edge of Chengdu. Since I was still living near the center, every morning I would squeeze onto one of the buses crawling through the rush hour traffic.

I couldn’t resist taking this picture, but this is not a post about how crowded those rush-hour buses are. You already know about that. What I find surprising about crowded buses is that after people get on through the back door (something they’re technically not supposed to do, but it’s common during peak times), everyone pays their fare. They give their bus passes or cash to one person, who then passes them to the person in front of her, who continues the relay to the front. Someone at the front of the bus swipes all the cards and puts the notes in the cash slot, and then the cards are passed back and distributed to their owners.

This surprises me because Chinese normally don’t seem very concerned about breaking minor regulations. Run a red light on your motorbike, drive your taxi the wrong way up a one-way street, or get paid under the table, and you’ll have no reason to fear public opprobrium. So why not keep that 30 cents for your next trip?

Another reason I’m impressed with the fare ritual is that pickpocketing is common on these crowded buses. Yet people hand their preloaded fare cards off to a relay line of strangers without apparent concern that anyone might slip one into his pocket. That’s just not done.

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1 Comment »

  1. That is fascinating–thanks for sharing this bit of public transport etiquette Shawna. You’re right that given the tendency in developing countries to thumb their noses on all things regulatory when it comes to traffic management, I find this to be an interesting quirk, but in a feel-good way.

    Comment by Joung Lee — October 6, 2010 @ 9:49 am


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    About me

    I've come to Sichuan in search of adventure, fluency in Chinese, and awesome vegetarian food. I have to concede that the baby pandas are very cute.
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