Saturday, September 20, 2008

BISS Bus Bloopers

Ever since we started school at BISS, we had been taking a cab to school each morning. The reason no school bus came to our house or neighborhood was because, each year, only one or two people from our district (Haidian) went to this school. We live in a very "Chinese" area of Beijing, unlike the more Western area of Beijing (Chao Yang) where our school is located and where most of the students live. Beijing is such an immense city that it would have been pointless for a bus to pick up two people and then drive all the way back to school. This year, however, five of us now live in Haidian, which seemed to give the school reason enough to start a bus.

The first week or so of school, the nus wasn't ready because it was going to be a new addition to the system. So a new driver, ayi, and bus had to be prepared. Last week, everything finally shaped up. On Tuesday, we were told that the next day we would be able to take the bus home, but we would have to make our way to school on our own in the morning so the driver could figure out the best route. Wednesday afternoon comes, and with the ring of the bell, I am outside trying to figure out which bus I am supposed to get on. I see a small van over to the side of the other buses where two women and one man are standing with what looks like lists of some sort. I walk over, figuring this must be the new bus. One of the women introduces me to the other man and woman, who will be our driver and ayi (her job is to take care of us on our bus rides). They only speak Chinese, but I am very happy about this (extra Chinese lessons!). Once the other four bus riders join me (Z, two sisters, and one other girls), we are off to Haidian on the other side of town.

As we start off, we are going the same way as all the other cab drivers and buses take us. Eventually, we peel off to an area I don't recognize, to get to the place where the two sisters live. By now, I had already spoken to both the ayi and the driver in Chinese, and so they now assumed I was the bus translator and that I am the only one who speaks Chinese. So when the bus driver is lost, the ayi begins frantically asking me questions. Of course, not only is my Chinese, shall we say, not fluent, but I also have no idea how to get to the place where we are going. Obviously, the driver hadn't used his morning to find the route, because he had no idea where to go.

This moment was like one quick blur. First, the ayi wants me to give her directions to where the girls live. Next, I am asking them and giving the ayi the same response over and over, "They don't know where we are either." Then, I am on the phone with my dad, asking him to tell the ayi where to go. When this fails, I begin giving the ayi the directions myself, only to find out the driver got out and is asking people on the street where to go. Person after person he asks, they all point in different directions. Finally, I know where I am. We have been here before. This is the Western supermarket, right across the street from Renmin University's East gate.

No, I tell the ayi, this is the East gate. We need the West gate. More directions are asked. Te girls are on the phone with their dad, and he has managed to find an Olympic volunteer who will tell the driver where to go. These instructions don't seem to be enough, so the driver is out of the van again, asking for directions. I am still trying to face the ayi's rapid fire of Chinese when we finally reach a place the girls recognize. "They know this place," I shout to the ayi, "Continue straight."

Forty minutes of non-stop, on-the-spot Chinese practice for me, and we have finally made it to destination number one. We are now off to destination number two. The other girl on the bus knows where to go, but I am, yet again, on the spot to tell the driver where to go. This proves to be a lot easier than the first part of the drive, so I get a rest before Z and I have to figure out how to get to destination number three, our house. I am still on the phone with Daddy, and am still yapping instructions in Chinese when Z and I finally figure out where we are. We know how to get home from here, so we begin telling the driver exactly where to go. I am still not sure, but we did get home that day. I guess a little Chinese goes a long way.

After this event, the ayi loves to talk to me on the bus rides, and she loves to brag about my Chinese to the other ayis. I am still the resident bus translator, this has built a nice relationship between me and Z and the ayi. The bus is now one of my favorite parts of the day, because there is always something I need to explain to the ayi. Practice makes perfect, so I am always ready to try out my Chinese on anyone.

~Julie

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