I spend a lot of time on public transportation in Suzhou. Most of my Chinese friends have cars, although personally I think one would have to be slightly insane to drive in Suzhou. (One would have to be completely insane to drive in Shanghai.) Some of my expatriate/老外 friends use DiDi all the time (the Chinese version of Über). (I’m not sure if it is “Über” or “Uber,” and I don’t really care, because I know what it is supposed to be.) Others take taxis a lot, which are cheap.
I’m still setting up my bank account so I can be like every Chinese person under the age of 80, and not use cash. Everyone here just uses their phones to pay for things—for everything—and when I pull out cash they laugh, compare me to their grandparents, or both. So for awhile I’m neither able to use DiDi nor the fine delivery services that can bring food to my door. When I do get my phone up to scan like a real human being, I probably still won’t use DiDi: I don’t stay out too late, and I rarely drink, and those would be the reasons I’d use that service. (I will use those food delivery services, however, so stay tuned.)
Plus, I would miss all the fun on the bus. (The subway is less fun: I try to avoid it from 5-7 pm, when it is packed, and I mean packed.)
The other, somewhat surprising, thing about the subway is that it takes longer than the bus. If you find the right bus or set of buses, you can get pretty much anywhere in an hour or less. The subway almost always requires changing trains (to get places I’m going, at least), so it seems to always be about 90 minutes no matter where I’m going.
The bus, as noted, is a lot more fun. It is not like the old days I’ve heard about—at least in the cities—so people tend not to bring live chickens or pigs on board. However, while waiting for a bus one morning, a friendly gentleman did offer to sell me any number of turtles out his enormous bag holding approximately 50 of them. I’m not certain what my plan would have been, taking one or more live turtles onto the bus, but I’m not sure he had thought this through completely.
The bus can be a bit loud. My very scientific analysis indicates this is for two reasons: the older women on the phone (or talking to each other), and the men between 25 and 35 years old. The former talk on the phone without seeming to recognize its technological advantages, so they talk loudly enough that the person on the other end of the line can hear them without the phone. The men, in contrast, apparently think their brilliance and business strategies are so remarkable that they should be shared with everyone.
Sometimes it is older men, however. The two guys in the picture below were on a bus that was almost entirely empty; instead of one of them moving closer to the other, they screamed across the bus to each other for the entire time I was on there (20-30 minutes). It was pretty amusing, but it was also in Suzhounese, the local version of Chinese that is pretty baffling, to me at any rate.
The fun really never stops. There is yelling, there is sometimes loud music, there are students with intriguing hairstyles and mysterious English phrases on their clothing; today a woman just started vomiting. She did that for awhile, no one said a word, she finished, calmly walked off the bus, and only then did the bus driver start yelling about it. Hey, sometimes you need to vomit; it’s cool. I did not take a picture.
Otherwise, a week that was pretty slow; I’m getting ready to go to Huang Shan, the famous “Yellow Mountain” in Anhui Province. I will be staying four nights on top of the mountain, hoping to catch at least one of its famous sunsets and at least one of its famous sunrises. If you want to read more about it—and you should—here’s a link (which refers to it as “Huang Shan Mountain,” which is a bit redundant redundant, since “Shan” means “mountain”; you’d think the UN would do better):
Here’s a picture; come back to see if my pictures compare.
I did make it back to one of my old haunts for 炸酱面 (zhajiangmian) and a 鸡排 (jipai), in the old neighborhood where I lived when I taught for the University of Dayton (Go Flyers.) They were fabulous, of course, and I seemed to be nostalgic for . . . last Spring?
There is also a brand-new McDonald’s there, added since I left; I very rarely go to McDonalds here or in the US, but I had to check it out. It was very McDonaldsish.
Finally, for those readers of mine who are trained (or untrained) economists (Hi, Art!): there are niche markets in the US, and for some reason good grocery stores need 10 or 12 different kinds of stone-ground mustard (yes, I know the reason is supply, demand, the efficient market hypothesis, etc.). But in the most touristy part of Suzhou (Ping Jiang Street) I saw a place that seemed to respond to a very specific market. It sells nothing but ocarinas.