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Yesterday at the bus stop, I noticed a man wearing all black waiting by the back of the mass of people getting on the bus. He would get pushed forward, and then purposefully work his way towards the back; it seemed suspicious. I know from friends that pickpockets like to use the moment of climbing on the bus to snatch wallets and mp3 players as people crowd onboard, so I kept my eye on him.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Just as the woman in front of him took her first step on, he reached up and placed his hand on her purse. At that moment everything we’d discussed here on the blog about apathy and the evil of “minding our own business” flashed through my mind. You would never have known if I had chosen to stay out of it, but I wouldn’t have been able to face you today if I had remained silent like those around me.
So I pulled his hand off her purse and loudly said, “Gan ma?” (What are you doing?) He took a few steps back and barked something at me that I didn’t quite catch. Sensing the crowd starting to turn against me I pointed at the man and said, “Xiaotou” (pickpocket), and then explained to the woman, who was now looking through her purse, that I had seen him reaching towards it.
I had stopped a thief before in Guangxi, and knew that his buddies could show up at any moment to threaten me. I felt a surge of adrenaline, and my hands were shaking as I beeped my bus card.
At this point I realized my nerves were for nothing as the woman yelled at me for grabbing her husband. Apparently, he holds her bag for stability as he climbs the steps instead of the railing on the door.
Perhaps I was a bit overzealous; a friend had just told me a few days earlier that he had been on a bus when someone noticed their phone was stolen. The victim ordered the bus driver to keep the doors shut while another passenger attempted to call his phone. For a minute everyone froze and listened, but the thief had already turned it off. “Of course he turned it off,” an old woman growled as she pushed towards the door.
Giggles spread through the bus as I moved down the aisle, and one person even took a picture of me with their phone. I felt like a complete idiot and desperately wanted to get off the bus. I decided to ride it the rest of the way home (about 30 minutes), I told myself that I had just been trying to help a stranger so there was really nothing to be embarrassed about. Maybe it would give courage to someone else to take action the next time they saw something suspicious.
When I retold the story to co-workers this morning, they agreed that this kind of behavior should be promoted (people actually talk like this). They also reassured me that there were too many people like this woman, who complain when someone is just trying to help.
But then the conversation quickly switched to how I should be more careful in confronting thieves on the street. *sigh* Should I mind my own business next time?
I ride the bus almost everyday here in Nanjing. From home to work, the journey is just about 2.5 km, down a single straight road. In ideal traffic conditions it takes about 15 minutes by bus, during rush hour it’s closer to 30 minutes (which is the same amount of time it would take to walk), last night it took me nearly an hour.
About 15 minutes was spent just waiting for a bus, which isn’t entirely unusual. Even though the stop is next to a subway station, and leads to a major residential area, there is only one bus route connecting the two. To me it seems to be a combination of rapid development and poor planning.
China changes so quickly that 5-10 years worth of change at US speeds often happens in just one or two years. In the last ten years private car ownership has exploded, and most cities simply do not have the roads to handle them. I don’t fault Chinese leaders for not being able to keep up with this growth, and as we saw earlier this week, rushing infrastructure projects is not a viable option.
Car ownership is both a status symbol and an object of convenience. If the buses in Nanjing were as regular and comfortable as the ones found in Hong Kong, more people would be willing to take them. As it stands I often have to wait 20 minutes or more for a bus, making it an unreliable hassle.
So when you combine inefficient public transportation (~10% of the problem), narrow roads (70%), and tens of thousands of new drivers driving with Chinese characteristics (20%), traffic can rapidly spiral out of control. When packed on a bus with more than 50 other passengers, the traffic seems that much worse.
So yesterday once I finally boarded the bus and saw that we were hardly moving, I realized I should have walked home. For the first 10 minutes, I was mildly annoyed at the boy grabbing the rail directly over my head in a way that made me hunch over. The next 10 minutes was spent trying to enjoy some music in an effort to remain calm on the now steamy bus. After 30 minutes, I was pretty angry that I still had 3 of the 6 stops left to go.
Then I saw something so ridiculous that I started laughing and looking around to see if anyone else had seen the same thing. In front of the provincial gov’t offices, there were nearly 50 black cars (mostly Audi’s and other high end brands) all with gov’t license plates parked along the already narrow street, each manned by a driver waiting to whisk some bureaucrat home for the evening. The gov’t employees had created a massive bottleneck with their fleet of chauffeured sedans.
Never had I seen gov’t waste so clearly with my own eyes. Not only is it foolish to have so many cars displayed openly, but when their excess actually forces the rest of us to sit in a traffic jam for nearly an hour, it seems like the perfect way to foment dissent.
Chinese citizens have been pushing for years to get local governments to open up their books and show exactly how much is spent on vehicles, banquets and trips abroad (with little progress). Yesterday it seemed like we just needed a Blue Book and a calculator.