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Photo by Kate Gross-Whitaker

Public Transportation and Me

I feel absolutely no shame admitting that one of my reasons for going on Bridge Year, was to get an up-close look at functional public transportation. To anybody who knows me, it is no secret that I love the idea of public transportation. Growing up a social studies nerd with engineer parents, transit was an issue on which we connected and I developed a fascination with all different kinds of transit. Buses, trains, PRT, are all things I would have loved to be easily accessible in my community or, at least, somewhere in the state. As it was, I grew up with a crumbling and neglected transportation infrastructure, something I personally consider to be particularly shameful in a state that was practically built because of rail systems. By the age of eighteen, I desperately needed to renew my faith in reliable transit. The handbooks we received this summer, advertised the prospect of joining locals in biking around Kunming, and though I did seriously consider this, I probably should have known that my transit future lay with the city bus system. I have a bus pass. It stays with my keys on a lanyard, and I wear it right over my heart, where it belongs. I know approximately three different bus routes to get to school, and everyday I ride the bus with many other citizens for only 2RMB a ride (the exchange rate from RMB to US Dollars is about 7:1). Every Sunday and Wednesday after martial arts class, I get aggravated at the 95 bus for taking nearly an hour to finally make an appearance. On a bad morning, when I’m running late and neither the 156, the Z13, nor the 262 are anywhere to be found and I just know that my transfer to the 111 or the 22 is going to take forever, I feel what can only be described as pure exasperation. I absolutely love it. Nothing makes me feel like part of the city more than sitting on a bus on my way from point A to point B, or the simple act of swiping my pass as I step onto the bus, or even being squished in the aisle on an extra busy day.

Our trip to and from Puzhehei, fulfilled another one of my transit dreams. We had booked tickets on a bullet train. It was sleek and beautiful, when you sat down you couldn’t even tell the train was moving, and the atmosphere was so calming that nearly every member of our group slept onboard. A trip that would have taken around five hours by car, took only an hour and a half by this train. On our way to Puzhehei we all relaxed and were struck by the deliberation with which the train took care of its passenger. The extra legroom in each row, the little signs on the back of each chair reminding passengers to be considerate to one another, and the announcements that came over the speakers explaining the rules of the train, everything carefully added to make the experience pleasant for its patrons. On our way, back from Puzhehei, we got to see a new design, and experience even more comfort. Cabins instead of aisles, each one equipped with beds so passenger could recline in comfort, and personal lighting if we chose to do work (we did not). When we entered the train, Luz Victoria and Julia commented that the cabins reminded them of the Hogwarts Express, to which I replied that it was more like if the Wizarding World had decided to stop being lazy and modernize. We spent the whole trip watching a documentary and the passing scenery in peaceful comfort. I personally think it was the best possible ending for our weekend excursion and am already looking forward to our next transit experience. Maybe we’ll get to try a Maglev train, but I’m not picky. Whether we take another bullet train or just a bus, I’ll be happy.