Will bite. Approach with caution.
T plus 18 - Zhangye, Gangsu
I’ve never felt so indignant about an episode of public transport in my life. Now, I’ve had my fair share – being crushed in the tube in London, stewing in a swarm of 50 year old Morisses in Bombay, hanging off the backseat of motorcycles in Bangkok, snorting at a sea of sweaty armpits on the metro in Rio, or most recently, recycling farts in my sleep during 30 hour train journeys in China.
There is no comparison, however, to the minibuses in provincial Zhangye, Gangsu for the most horrifying way to travel. Seriously, I feel as scandalised as a nun who discovered the concept of anal intercourse for the first time.
Outwardly, they look perfectly innocuous. Relatively new, fresh coat of paint and everything. There’s even a cleaning lady who gives the floor a mopping every couple of hours. It’s the way they’re operated which has me hyperventilating.
Anyone who’s been to India knows how irritating the sound of incessant beeping from cars and three-wheelers can be. This is a million times worse. Instead of a tiny little car horn, these buses come equipped with billion decibel bellows. And I think most tick the “upgrade to deluxe version” option when spec’ing out their hell-on-wheels.
Taking a ride in one of these buses is like being driven around by Lucifer himself. On a bad day. It’s as if the horn is surgically connected to the driver’s pulmonary functions – 20 seconds goes by without him abusing it and he’s afraid of falling into a coma.
“Oh, there’s a little old lady minding her own business, pootling along on her little moped at the side of the road. What’s this? She has no blood coming out of her ears? Let’s fix that by blasting her with my billion decibel horn from 5,000 metres away.”
“Oh, there’s my fellow colleague coming in the opposite direction. I’d like to convey my warmest greetings! Let’s compare the acoustic capabilities of our vehicles by honking out the 9th Symphony together.”
And it’s not just the noise, although I feel like I’ve been torn a new one. In my head. It’s the blatant disregard for safety too. I boarded one bus and was mortified to find a small child napping away on the front bench. The slightest touch of the brakes would have sent said minor hurtling through the (already cracked) windscreen, onto the tarmac where he would have ended up as a small red skid mark.
Really, there’s a lot to complain about if one is in the mood – the suspension doesn’t exist, the ride is spine shattering, the seatbelts don’t fasten, the side mirrors are duct taped on, and the driver calls out the stops as if he has his mouth full – of magic mushrooms. It’s as if they are obeying their one executive order “keep bus clean”, and nothing more, heaven forbid.
What else? Oh, there is a large enough population of flies on board to make everyone feel like African children on UNICEF aid. Maybe I should stop working on my Mandarin and start learning Swahili instead.