Wednesday, January 14, 2009

And This Time I Wasn't Even One Of The Combatants!

So there I was this morning, at about 7:30 am, jumping on to the 438 to make my way down to campus. It was, as usual, a crowded bus. I was able to get inside the middle door of the bus, up to the top of the steps, and that was about it. A wall of humanity surrounded me on all sides.

The bus pulled out of Saoziying and I was standing there with my headphones on, listening to today's ChinesePod lesson. As we rolled down Yuanmingyuan Xi Lu, I noticed the sound of raised voices from up toward the front of the bus. I looked up and it appeared as if two women were having some kind of argument with a man.

Figuring that I might learn some good "street" expressions, I paused the podcast and listened in to what was happening on the bus. Sometimes, these kind of arguments die out as quickly as they spring up. (Like when I had my chaojia with our would-be driver.) This one, however, actually took a turn in the opposite direction. Before I really knew what was going on, the "conversation" began to get more heated.

And then it started to get a little physical. The women started wagging their fingers right in the face of the man. He aggressively returned the favor. Then it turned into a battle of who could most quickly and emphatically whack the other side's finger away from their head.

At this point, a passenger sitting next to the combatants intervened. It sounded like he was rendering his just and fair judgment on the events, as often happens in arguments, car accidents, and other public disagreements here in China. An end seemed near, as I read the situation.

Wrong again! The two women began walking away from the man, right toward the door where I was standing. As they walked, they screamed, over and over again, a phrase that sounded to me like, Cong nali lai? "Where are you from?" Obviously, I was completely off with this translation, as the phrase served only to enrage the man. He began yelling at the top of his voice in return. I have no clue what he was saying, but it was clearly not a pleasantry, judging by the even more heated verbiage and finger pointing that emanated from the women, who were now standing right next to me in the stairwell.

Add to this mix of loud voices the efforts of the ayi to bring law and order back to the bus. She powered on her microphone and began calling out, over and over again, things like, bie shuo le. "Stop all of this arguing!" The only effect of ayi's efforts were to increase the decibel level of the proceedings.

Unable to take it any longer, the man decided to come after the women. He advanced down the aisle, toward them (and me). Now, let me make it clear that I had no stake in the argument. I had no idea who was in the right and who was in the wrong. I didn't really even know what they were at it about. But I definitely did not want to see things get too violent. So, as the man came motoring toward the women, I stuck my arms out, to keep the parties separated. Both sides tried to get around me (the women, for their part, were definitely not backing down), but I was not budging.

Then the man retreated, turned around, and came charging down the bus. I grabbed on to a support railing and braced myself, using my whole body as a shield. He tried to burst his way through me, but it wasn't working. I held the line steadily.

Then he discovered the one flaw in my defenses. He stepped to the side and hurtled over the support railing, right down into the stairwell, feet first, where the women were standing. I tried to use my arms as barriers, but the three of them were all a blur of fists and kicks.

Just then, the bus arrived at Xi Yuan. This was the women's destination and they spilled out of the 438, with the man in tow. There, on the curb, the altercation continued. The man tried to get back on the bus, but one of the women grabbed his shirt. In the meantime, the man's female companion was rushing back and forth, presumably deciding whether to stay on or get off the bus herself.

For a few last moments, one of the women's (rather large) purses began flying and whacking at the man. (Think Pete Townsend doing his best windmill. That's kind of what the whirling purse reminded me of.) The man finally moved away and back onto the bus. The ayi shut the door and the driver began to pull away.

My last vision was of the two women, standing there at the bus stop, still waving their fingers furiously and hailing invectives at the man, who was now "debriefing" loudly with his female companion.

My work done, I found a seat, turned Jenny and John back on, and continued my morning commute...



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