Thursday, September 11, 2014 0 comments

The row over a bus seat in China

"The row over a bus seat in China", Wuhan made the international news today.  For the amazing food, the research being done at the many universities like mine, the suffocating smog problem? Nope, a fight on the bus.

I know the buses can be a bit crazy sometimes ...On Monday, which was Mid-Autumn Festival, a major holiday here, I was at the mall at Guanggu.  I had intended to meet some people there (or I never would have thrown myself into that crowd on a holiday), but it didn't work out.  To not waste my trip, I went into Carrefour to see if there was anything I needed. 

I almost put the miscellaneous small items I was juggling (I hadn't picked up a basket on the way in) and just left when I saw the checkout lines, stretched half way down the first row of aisles-twenty people at least in each line, probably more.  But as I grudgingly joined the back of the queue (inasmuch as any group of waiting Chinese are able to queue), I saw a couple if places ahead of me my friend, FaDa, and a few friends of his, a couple of which I had seen with him before.  Fada is Egyptian, but spent twelve years in Boston, growing up and later working for Boston University.  Now he's here at Huazhong Agricultural finishing up a doctorate in nanotechnology.  I met him last spring when he was part of the group of foreigners from our school who went to teach some special classes for a day at some middle schools in a less-affluent part of the province. 

Seeing me in line, they called me up to join them and quickly cleared a place for me to deposit my armload of groceries in their buggy.  Fada introduced me to his new wife-they were just married two weeks ago, and she has also come to our university to get a doctorate in nanotechnology.  Their other two friends, another Egyptian guy and a half-Chinese half-Turkish woman, are both pursuing doctorates in genetics.  I did feel a bit uneducated among all these scientific minds, but they are all very friendly people. 

After making it through the ridiculous checkout line (Fada timed it at nearly forty minutes), we fought the crowds out if the mall and across the street to the bus stop of the 591, which has its terminus at our school gate.  For once, we didn't have to wait long for the bus, but it was already full when it pulled up.  I made a comment about sardines, which came true immediately as we all crammed on. 

Our little party ended up right at the front, with Fada and I on the step just inside the door and the other three just above us squeezed between us and the driver.  The advantage of this was that at least we were closest to the air conditioning. 

At the next stop one of the girls in our group managed to squeeze further into the bus (and eventually got a seat, which she kept kindly offering to switch out for-but it would be more trouble than it was worth to climb over people to get there), and somehow a young Chinese couple managed to join us on the step. At least they were a couple, so they didn't mind standing intertwined, because they would have had to anyhow.

Much to the driver's amusement, Fada took on the roll of conductor.  As the door opened, he would begin collecting money and taking bus cards to scan, any barking for people to load from the middle door, where there might be more space from people getting off.  He continued this at every stop.  Even the driver realized we could not cram another body on this overloaded bus, so he started yelling out that if someone wanted off they'd better yell and tell him, because otherwise he wasn't stopping.  After that we only let on more people if someone got off. 

Most of the bus seemed to be students going back to our school, so it never did lighten up much.  It took over an hour in the holiday traffic before we finally burst out, gasping for air, at the school gate.  However, what should have been an hour of aching feet and accidental elbowing misery passed much better with Fada for entertainment, as he imperiously barked orders at the hapless mob trying to insert themselves into the bus and encouraging the driver in Chinese, joking with his new wife about their lovely honeymoon trip on the 591 bus in Arabic, chatting with his friend and me in English, and waving happily at bemused passersby goggling at the overstuffed bus. 

So, to survive a city bus in a city of ten million at rush hour on a holiday, you need a sense if humor. And this is what happens if you lose it:

The row over a bus seat in China

Monday, September 1, 2014 0 comments

Curry Chicken Ramen

Continuing a recent theme (cliched I know, in Asian travel circles) about good food in Penang, I feel the need to share another meal. It was that good. I know there's a lot of antagonism towards those that post pictures of lunch on facebook and instagram, but you came here of your own free will, and food is certainly an integral part of travel. :)

I overslept and spent longer than I meant taking care of various odds and ends at the hostel, so it was lunchtime by the time I got started with my day. There were still three major sites in Penang that I hadn't covered, so my plan was to do one today, and then spend the afternoon at Penang Hill, and then get up and moving earlier tomorrow and do the other two, then spend the afternoon at the beach. My first stop, however, was lunch. Wanting to be efficient, I decided to eat somewhere near the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion that I planned to explore after. There was a place called the Red Garden, from the description and from the outside view a food court of street food stalls recommended for all sorts of local specialties, almost next door--but it was shut up and quiet when I walked by.  So I wandered around the corner over to nearby Jalan Penang, and I found a place that looked like it was probably a chain, but had advertisements with tantalizing pictures of set oriental and Italian meals. 

I spent a while deciding--play it safe or take a risk?  Finally I settled on curry chicken ramen.  I did not regret my choice--it was love at first bite.  I have got to learn to make some curry dishes.  The curry was creamy and full of flavor without being overly spicy, perfect on noodles (I've only ever had it on rice before), and all the Asian odds and ends (which are usually an acquired taste that I haven't acquired) were wonderful, even if I couldn't positively identify them.  The only part that wasn't great, actually, was the chicken, which was a bit gristly, but there was so much else to eat I didn't miss it.  With so many food opportunities in Penang, I don't have the time to repeat meals, but every time I get a whiff of curry (which is often in Penang; I keep passing through Little India), my mouth starts watering again.  And it's watering now writing about it.  Hmm, I wonder if they have one of those places in Kuala Lumpur?