Writer's Block

The USA is the place I was born. Canada is the place I was raised. Taiwan is the place in my heart.

Thursday, May 02, 2002

I’ve certainly come a long way since my first bus ride in Taipei. If you don’t own a scooter or car, Kaohsiung’s mass transit basically consists of buses and taxis. They have just started to break ground for the MRT (mass rapid transit i.e. subway) here in Kaohsiung. I take the bus everywhere.

Taking the bus is an interesting experience for me. Most people would beg to differ though because the buses are not the most efficient means of transportation. They are often slow (taking round about routes), old (the interiors are not very well maintained) and bumpy (bus drivers drive without regard for the safety comfort of their passengers standing in the aisle and frequently slam on the brakes). The only people who take the bus are either young students (high school aged and younger) or senior citizens- because they are either too young or old to ride around on scooters or drive cars… and then there’s me.

Taking the bus is definitely not luxurious or convenient, but it’s a learning experience. Bus drivers often prefer listening to Hoklo Taiwanese speaking radio stations, so it’s strangely comforting for me to hear Taiwanese songs and radio DJ’s speaking Taiwanese during my bus rides. Two days a week I take two buses and ride a little over one hour total each way to get to my English teaching job at the college. On other days I take the bus to my Chinese lessons. This morning on my way to the college I was listening to the Taiwanese radio station that blared on the bus and realized that I was listening to what sounded like yodeling. Yes, I was hearing yodeling in Taiwanese over the radio- how odd… only in Taiwan.

In the southern part of Taiwan, the people here are much more casual. Anything goes. I’ve seen bus drivers and taxi drivers who’ve truly made themselves at home in their vehicles… Some taxi drivers drive barefoot and I’ve seen cabs fully equipped with mini-beverage bars, curtains on the windows, a mini karaoke station-yes, there are small LCD screens installed in the cabs complete with a mike to keep passengers amused during their ride, other cabs have mini LCD screens installed in the back of the front seats so that passengers can enjoy a DVD or T.V. during their ride. Amazing, how some of these cabs look like they could be lived and then again, some of them smell like they’ve been lived in. This is not the norm but I have had the unpleasant experience of being in a cab that was so foul that I had to hold my breath. Thankfully it was a short ride.

I’ve seen bus drivers with an array of potted plants all arranged cozily in the front of their bus- it’s a mini jungle up there. Just by looking at the plants you can get a sense of how long a driver has been driving the bus.

Some bus drivers are quite characters-striking up conversations with anyone who will listen. Others sternly keep their passengers in line telling them to quickly take a seat as soon as they board the bus because he’s not breaking for anyone, in fact, as soon as a passenger is picked up bus drivers usually step right on the gas back up to speed regardless of whether passengers have found a seat or stabilized themselves.

And then there’s one bus driver who I’ll never forget. When I first relocated to Kaohsiung last summer, my bus commute to the college was an unbearably long- lasting about one and a half to two hours each way, but by car it would have taken 40-50 minutes. The only bus to the college took an extremely round about route, circling around and around all about town. It certainly wasn’t the most efficient route- but probably necessary because, as I mentioned, it was the only bus that went that far out. This meant that I would have to be on the bus by 7:00-7:30am to get to my 9:00am classes on time.

That was excruciatingly tough for me. I am so NOT a morning person. Those who are close to me have witnessed this incredible talent I have for sleeping through almost every possible annoying sounding alarm clock. You name it I’ve tried it- talking alarm clocks that announce the time incessantly every 10 minutes after the alarm has gone off, cock-a-doodle do clocks, ringing, buzzing, earth shattering loud clocks… Yes, I am legendary for having a deep sleeping disorder. It’s difficult enough for me to get up early in the mornings and when I do wake up, I’m not capable of fully participating in a conversation until 9:00 or 10:00am. Anyone who is sing songingly perky before this hour seems like a nuisance to me because I can’t entirely process or respond to them in a likewise fashion. I’ve been known to receive calls at 6:00am- awoken from a deep sleep- only to fall asleep again immediately after the conversation. And later on that day I wouldn’t quite be able to recall if I had dreamed the phone call or not and couldn’t even remember what the phone conversation had been about.

Back to the point…. My first week in Kaohsiung (August of 2001) seemed like one big, long, overcast, dreadful bus ride. Having relocated from Taipei, I missed my friends and the conveniences of Taipei- in Kaohsiung I felt isolated and uncertain. Most mornings I took the lonely, dreary bus ride out to the college where I began teaching English. There were only a handful of people on the bus at that hour (sometimes there were only two or three passengers including me) and the sun hadn’t risen yet or it was raining. The somber mood of the bus ride echoed my inner mood but on one particular morning the bus driver cheerily greeted all of his three passengers. He seemed to genuinely enjoy his job. Then as he drove, he began singing at the top of his lungs with great fervor- to the Taiwanese songs that blared over the radio- as if he were having is own private karaoke session, oblivious to his unwitting audience. It put a smile on my face seeing how animated he became; it was entertaining and inspiring. I strained to understand the words. I could only make out something about getting together with friends and enjoying their company; basically I think I could paraphrase the meaning of the song to be something to the effect of “Don’t worry be happy.” His enthusiasm was simply contagious. I snapped out of my blues after that. That bus driver will never know how he made my day. I realized that there was a new day ahead full of promise and that I should feel lucky to know and be able to experience it. I was also reminded that we can always find pleasure in the simpler things in life.


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