Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Bus Stop

[Beijing China, 1981]
We stand on the narrow curb waiting for the bus to arrive.  I am bundled in layers of sweaters and a coat with a hood wrapped tightly around my face, making me look like an over stuffed, rigid but blinking, toy doll.  The cold air bites my hands and lips, cutting deeper welts into the already dry and cracking skins.  The frozen concrete below seep frost into my feet through layers of socks and plastic bottomed cotton shoes.

There is a small crowd around us, a cloud of gray pants and blue cotton jackets with hands crossing into the opposite sleeves. My brother Luo left the ear covers up on his aviator hat so his ears are as red as the sugared cherry pops on display at the snack cart behind us.  Mom takes out the bus fare, and we watch three icy coins transfer from her hand into Luo's, an occasional sparkle escapes when the edge catches the weak but rising glow of the winter morning sun. 

It is only six o'clock.  But the commuting cyclists streaming through the Anding Street bus stop pronounces a busy and definite beginning.  A beginning of the day, of the week; or if you are Luo, the first day of school, with classes starting at seven.  He stands there hands in his pockets and a canvas school bag crossing over his shoulders, chest so full of purpose it rises even above layers of winter coats.

The bus lets out a heavy sigh upon pulling into the stop.  The crowd doubles in size as soon as the bus appears.  The door opens, as much a mechanical effort as a result of the neatly packed riders pushing through, and hardly anyone can move in or out.  The few who step off seem to punch a hole through the human wall blocking the door and stumble out, nearly falling at the last step but manage to stand, to my great relief.

Luo shuffles towards the opening but I lose sight of him immediately.  The crowd gathers at the door and swells to cover the entrance, reminding me of the time when I saw the pouring of a bucket of tar smoothing and covering any openings in its tracks.   I shut my eyes for a minute, counting to sixty, as Luo has taught me to spare me the worry of seeing him squished.  He is the "fat" one in the family, with cheeks unusually chubby for having our daily diet of rice and salted cabbages.  But at six year old, he hardly weighs nor measures half the size of the other commuters,  waxy and ill fed they might seem judging by the necks and limbs sticking out of the bulge of their jackets. 

When I open my eyes, I see Luo standing on the highest step by the outer edge of the bus with his face peeking through the elbows of two other commuters.  A big, round and ruddy smile emerges to show us the space where he lost a tooth last week.  He shifts and twists until one of his arm is free, waving and shouting:

"See ya later, be good for mom!"

Mom takes a step up, and places her foot in the jam to block the bus door from closing.  As she grabs Luo's waving hands, she gives it a few gentle squeezes.  She is smiling and whispering something I can't hear.  So I smile too, and waving back at Luo.  Luo shakes himself free, chiding her:


The commuters standing near the edges, teetering on precious little floor space with nary of a whole foot each, looking for the solidity of the door on which to lean, join in mumbles and looks of disapproval towards her. 

She nods apologies and steps off, grabbing a hold of me and wrapping her arms so tight I can hardly breathe, watching as the bus pull away from the stop.  Luo's face red as a candle lit lantern, seems to stay before my eyes long after the bus has made the turn around the corner.   I turn to ask mom:

"When I grow up, do I get to ride the bus by myself like Luo?"

"Call him Big Brother, not Luo like us.  And no, you will not need to go to the Korean school like him.  Your father can take you to the neighborhood Chinese school when you are five."

"Why don't I need to go to the Korean school?"  I am as relieved as I am curious.

"Because you are a girl, so you don't need to carry on the family tradition. Luo's the first son, so he has responsibilities to marry a Korean girl when he grows up, and carry on our family's custom and heritage.  Now, let's go home."

I can already read "Little Horse Crossing The River" by myself, even retelling it to other children in the courtyard like a proper scholar.  But I can't make sense of what mom just said.  I don't know what heritage means, but I have a feeling it has something to do with the way mom and dad pickle cabbages for all the days of winter when there is nothing else to eat.  But the wind is picking up speed and ferocity, threatening to topple me over and blocking me from further scholarly reasoning.  All I can think then, is the lucky bus and its riders, who will have the pleasure of Luo's company for the next forty five minutes.


  1. I think this was piece was amazing.

    I was there with everyone on the street.

    I love how you incorporated the little girl's thoughts about her heritage, the lucky bus, and her brother.

    Even though it appears to be a mans world, I leave having the feeling she will someday be on a lucky bus too.

  2. Loree - thanks for visiting. I am glad you enjoyed that bit as I feel the same way.

    Doria - thanks and welcome!

  3. Enjoyed this! Glad you shared it, thank you. :) Love the photos too.
    Have a wonderful week,

  4. Thank you so much for this snapshot from 30 years ago. I thought it was so well written and really got me thinking. Thank you. x

  5. Karen - great to have you visit, you too!

    HF&I - lovely comment. I'm not sure its finished but time will tell I'm sure.

  6. A pleasure. If there is more to come I will look forward to reading it.

  7. Loved this! Loved the pics. Amazing. Thanks for sharing.

  8. HF&I - oh now I may have to do something, me and my big mouth! :)

    Jessica - Welcome and thanks for your encouraging comment.

  9. You can write girl! This was sublime.

  10. I've just been catching up with you. You are so prolific in your writing and I am in awe.
    I love how you set the tone and mood in this piece. The young girl is only becoming aware of her role in the world and it seems to me to be so significant because of the details of the scene.
    When I look back on important, defining moments in my life, it is the details of the setting or details of the feelings I remember. You did a wonderful job or relaying simply that.

  11. Tana - that's a high (and sublime) compliment!

    PAMO - Welcome back! I am glad to have managed to convey some of it. It was a moment that marked the beginning of something for sure.

  12. So beautiful. I loved all the detail, like "chest so full of purpose it rises even above layers of winter coats." This was so well written and so vivid that I felt like I was right there on that busy street. And the cultural differences are so very interesting, especially with your eye for fine detail, and skillful story telling. More! ;)

  13. I enjoyed this piece very much, it's brilliant! It's amazing how perfectly you described details from so long ago, I felt like I was there, standing next to you at the bus stop. Perfect description!

  14. Oh my dear girl, you are such a writer! I could read a whole book of this, it's rivetting, so evocative, and right there in the minute. A whole movie (far too early interrupted) played out in my minds eye. You have a gift dearest lady, please give us more!

  15. Jayne - you found the one (sentence) I was happy with too!

    Starlight - It was one of those childhood memories that held. Too few, sadly though.

    Shrinky - I'd love to write more on this, if memory will serve. Will persevere thanks to all of you!

  16. Oh my, this was simply lovely. Wonderfullly written and a complete joy to read.Thank you.

  17. Very descriptive. I felt the crowd pulsing around me as I read this. And I like that this is a girls voice. You do a good job of expressing the perplexed feelings upon first hearing the word "heritage."

  18. You're being featured on Five Star Friday -

  19. Lovely writing. I enjoyed the story very much.

  20. Ah just discovered you! Thanks to Five Star. Wonderful post, I shall come again.

  21. Sharon - thanks for all your encouragement, I really enjoyed your last post.

    Angela - What a thoughtful comment. It remained perplexing for some time to come...

    Schmutzie - Thanks so much for featuring me. I love reading your selections so feel very honored to be included.

    Terri - Thanks!

    toni - Welcome to my blog and hope to see you again soon!

  22. This is a wonderful piece, left a little smile on my face thinking of the 45 minutes Big Brother would spend charming the commuters and what her heritage might bring for her future.

    I read back a few posts, and really enjoyed what I read. I'll be back!

  23. Thanks lladybug and welcome to my blog!

  24. I'd meant to leave this comment much, much sooner - I so enjoyed reading this post. Absolutely wonderful.

  25. thanks SFW! I hope you had a good Easter break.

  26. Hey
    A Blessing A Day
    I enjoy your blog!, This unique is just a totally nicely structured posting, I do appreciate the writing
    Thank you!




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