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Observing Beijing through bus windows

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By Joseph Coningsby | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: Feb 16, 2022

[United Kingdom] Joseph Coningsby, Beijing Normal University

Joseph Coningsby [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

I was woken up this morning by birdsong. Being half awake, I could not help smiling as I listened to the warble. Somehow as time went by, the twitter and tweet turned louder and louder. I found it strange that a quiet morning birdsong had suddenly become a loud and annoying noise. When I opened my eyes in my dim room, I realized that the sound was not from the birds but my alarm clock.

It was 5:47 am and time to get up! I lived in a community that was far away from my campus, so I had to take a bus to school and get up early every day, which made me pretty upset. Through the bus window, I had observed the hot summer turning into the cool autumn, the short autumn period suddenly into grey winter days, the long winter days slowly into the warm spring, and finally the spring fleetingly into a new summer.

The advantages far outweighed the disadvantages in terms of living in a community outside the campus rather than a dormitory, as I could personally experience the community culture in China. In this way, not only could I have a better understanding of Chinese people’s way of thinking, but also a greater sense of security. My life here is comfortable and stable.

Every morning, I had a routine of my own: first I would take a crowded lift down to the 1st floor (I was on the 27th floor), and then go to the store to buy breakfast through WeChat payment. I would greet the cashier. Finally, I would go directly to the east gate of my community, to wait for bus 620.

The characteristic of bus 620, a double decker, was its unpredictability. Sometimes it was easy for me to find a seat on the second floor, and then I would open the window to let the breeze touch my face and bathe myself in the warm morning sunlight. Nothing was better than the quiet morning when I was half asleep, but the passengers on bus 620 often interacted with me, which I did not mind.

For example, if I opened a Chinese book on the bus, it would always attract people’s attention. They would come to me and ask me questions such as “How long have you learned Chinese?”, “How long have you lived in Beijing?” , and “Where are you from?” I was not used to such interactions when I first came to Beijing, probably because British people rarely talk to strangers. Therefore, to avoid questions from others and maintain personal space, I always put on headphones and pretended to listen to music.

The campus of Beijing Normal University [Photo provided by Beijing Normal University]

However on a steamy August morning, I met two interesting ladies as I stood on the crowded bus. There were so many passengers that day, and I had to stand on the stairs between the first and second floors. Next to me were two ladies who had been looking at me on the sly. When we arrived at Aoti Dongmen Station, I turned to the two ladies’ direction to see if there were any seats available on the second floor. When they saw my face, one lady said to her friend, “Wow! He has beautiful eyes!” They took it for granted that I did not know Chinese, but I was complacent. I said with smile, “Thank you. ”

When arriving at Beitucheng Station, many passengers would disembark, and I would finally find a seat. On the second floor, a small TV was placed in the front of the bus with a variety of news and programs broadcasting on the screen: Brexit, two celebrities advocating “no leftovers” to the public, one lady teaching audiences how to bake a cake, and a cartoon girl in Hanfu explaining the connotation of the Chinese dream. As the TV reran what I had already seen, I turned my head to the boulevard and was lost in thought, wondering what my year in China would be like.

I had learned some Mandarin when I studied in a Hong Kong high school. So when I first arrived in Beijing, I was only familiar with traditional Chinese characters and never spoke “Zheli” (meaning “here” ) with the unfamiliar sound “r” (denoting rhotic accent). Once when I got to Beitaipingqiao Nan Station, I stood up quickly and got ready to get off the bus in advance. As I got off, my mind wandered as I watched the college I was about to enter.

As the year nears its end I can understand taxi drivers. Moreover, I can talk to strangers without any concern. I understand that such interactions, far from being a nuisance, are a good opportunity to understand Chinese people’s thinking. Over time, I come to regard Chinese people’s curiosity as a positive and enthusiastic expression, and that means I have adapted to China’s customs and practices.

Unfortunately, I have to say goodbye to you, Beijing.

The story is from "My Beautiful Encounter with China" Essay Competition organized by the Chinese Service Center for Scholarly Exchanges (CSCSE).