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THE Lowly Peon

A Rough Day for Travel 
10 March 2011, 12:51am

Tuesday was a pretty wild day for the company bus.

The Daily Commute

The factory here in Hangzhou is, in reality, far from Hangzhou. In fact, the old factory was far from Hangzhou, and in early 2009 we moved to a new one, which is something like 12km farther. On a daily basis, I ride a bike about 15 minutes to get to the train station, where the company bus (outsourced) picks us up anywhere between 7:45am and 8:30am, and we generally get to the factory between 8:30 and 9. What is laughable is that although the bus ride to work is completely unpredictable, it is far more predictable than the return trip, where my arrival home is anywhere between 5:45 and 7pm.

The last few weeks, the bus that takes us to Hangzhou had seen better days. It's far too small for a tall person to sit in, the suspension is so broken that it's nearly impossible to read anything, the seat cushions occasionally slip out from under you with even a minor adjustment, leaving your bottom* dangling between the metal frame, and the smell of exhaust is so strong that daisy has even started wearing a mask once she boards. Tuesday, after probably two weeks of sending threatening emails to HR, they gave us a different bus. With that different bus came a different driver. And with that different driver apparently came very little experience or logic (update: he got lost yesterday after work).

The Morning

Because the only direct way to the factory requires breaking several rules which a large bus is incapable of doing, we have to take a very indirect route. Along this route is a gas station, so apparently the bus driver thought it would be very convenient for everyone — including the thirty or so people who would be late to work — to stop and get gas along the way.

number 1

The driver, clearly impatient, and driving a huge bus, couldn't figure out how to line himself up at the available pump because of the other cars blocking him. So what did he do? Well, naturally, he drive straight perpendicular to the pumps, thus blocking everyone else! And when he straightened out, just barely moving, he scratched some woman's car on the front bumper. (The scratch you don't see, toward the bottom right, is the reason the thirty of us showed up late to work.)

The Evening

Still reeling from excitement that we had a new bus that didn't make me feel like my lips were wrapped around an exhaust pipe, we got on the bus to head home after work. We take the airport highway home, which is full of buses that drive too fast, and outsiders who don't know how to drive in a city. Unfortunately, we learned the combination of the two not far from the factory.

I was reading on my iPhone, but from what I gathered talking to the guys in the front, this is what happened:

crash. note the car way in the distance, that flew all that way after he stopped and we made him go.

We were in the middle lane. Some guy in the left lane had missed his exit. The only option for him, naturally, was to stop completely, and slowly cross three lanes of heavy, fast, traffic, the either turn around or go in reverse to get to the exit. We estimate he was in first gear, and somehow facing completely forward, perhaps waiting for someone in the right lane to pass, when we — as my driver's ed teacher Mr Craven would say — tried to occupy the same space as him. His car was flung forward, and he either didn't have the ability to stop, or was being more dramatic than an NBA player who gets scratched, and slowed to a stop some 150m or so ahead.

No one was hurt, but no one on our bus seemed to really care. It took less than five minutes for all the guys in the front of the bus to casually take advantage of our rest stop to go outside, chat about the damage, and chain smoke as many cigarettes as possible.

the damage on our end:

Common in China — whether a law or not, which is in dispute — is to stop your car wherever you are, and wait for the police to come. So, out bus, stock full of thirty people, sat in the middle lane of a 100km/h highway, while this other guy's car sat in the left lane about 150m ahead of us. Every minute or so, we could feel a cement truck or an airport bus whiz by us, causing the bus to rock back and forth due to the wondrous Bernoulli Effect. The guy in the other car walked all the way back, leaving his car where it was, to have a chat with our driver. And like that, we sat for about an hour, until the police came (though I must add that at least two squad cars, possibly more, drove by with sirens on, completely ignoring us). When the police came in an SUV of sorts, a kid who couldn't have been more than 17 years old donned an orange vest and got out to take pictures. The two elder officers stayed in the car smoking. None of them even approached us by the time the old exhausty bus came to take us home.

The damage on our bus, it turns out, will cost over US$3,000 (read: a small fortune), and take over a month to repair.

Driving in China

Though I may have forgotten one or two, this makes the ninth car accident I've been in since I arrived in China. Without a doubt, this is the most significant, as most "crashes" involve some moron merging without looking and result in a bit of this car's paint on that car's bumper, lots of backed up traffic, and a long wait for the police to come take pictures. The moral of the story: ride a bike.

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[11 March 2011]

Wow...how exhausting. Just thinking about all that wasted time gets my blood boiling!