After speaking with numerous expats over the years, I have come to the consensus that there are certain behaviors that relegate the overseas experience. At a certain point, say, three years or so, the expat reaches a certain saturation point. They stop noticing the surroundings - the buildings, bridges, rivers, lakes, pagodas, traffic - that make a certain place special. Lets talk Suzhou, China, because that's where I lived for two years. The decent open chaos of daily life -- the environment itself -- is taken for granted or consumed by some other event for whatever reason. I made it a point to notice and document as much as I could, in an attempt to “uncover” everyday miracles that may otherwise go unnoticed. Things such as public transportation. Here are two such accounts from my notebook.
March 3, 2009. Suzhou, China
Bus driver refuses to take on riders while sitting at red light, just ten meters past bus stop. He screams at pedestrians. They bang their hands on door. Driver becomes enraged, takes the microphone and screams wildly at them over the bus loudspeaker. Old man sitting across from me, we exchange glance. Old man starts up with the driver, (I guess) protesting in support of the people outside. The driver is seething, directs comment to the old man that, I could only imagine, amounted to “Shut the Hell up or you’re next.” The old timer pipes down. Everything is broadcast into the street for everyone to hear. We are still waiting at red light. The pedestrians bang harder and the driver opens the door to (I guess) berate them face to face. They bum rush the doorway, but he closes it before they have a chance get in. The mood became very tense after that. The light turned green. At some of the other stops, the driver came to a complete stop, opened the entrance and exit doors, and nobody was even there to get on, and nobody on the bus wanted to get off.
April 16, 2009
Coming back from shopping center (Auchan), black smoke starts pouring out of air vents. Bus continues down street, normal stops are made. I am sitting in the second to last seat in the back. Soon it was hard to see front of bus through smoke. The windows in this particular bus did not open. People begin to make concerned facial gestures and cover mouth. I looked over to a child. She was awake. The idea was this: I would use the toddler as my personal canary. If she passed out, I would get the Hell off the bus. The bus driver stops in the road, evacuates bus. I wait for the next bus, decide against it, then catch a cab home.