I have always believed that a smile can overcome any language barriers. This I realized wasn’t necessarily true while boarding a red mini bus outside the Yau Tong MTR Station in Hong Kong. The driver, an elderly balding man whose eyes seemed half closed most of the time seemed to be having a pretty long one-sided conversation with me. I figured that the questions ended just when he took a short breath followed by a high note and an immediate prolonged note of a lower pitch. I smiled through the pauses while the driver waited for my answer. Finally he threw his arms in the air and took the conversation to the rest of the bus.
There was complete silence. Everyone was focused on our conversation.
“Ticket, you take ticket” said a young lady sitting in the front seat.
“Oh yes!” Of course that must have been it.
The driver stared at the 10 dollars I handed him,shook his head and turned to the young lady who promptly on cue asked
“Where you go?”
‘Lei Yue Mun’ I said, proud that I had pronounced it right.
The lady looked confused. She conversed with the driver then turned to me and said
“..is last stop”.
He grabbed my money, returned a handful of change and started the bus. The jerk of the engine threw me off-balance and the little coins dropped to the ground and rolled all over the bus. The driver shook his head from side to side,put the bus in gear and pulled out of the stop.
I contemplated picking up the coins, then changed my mind and instead found a seat right at the end of the bus.
During the up hill and down hill ride the coins rolled over the bus. A few people picked up the coins and passed them around. It was my money really but I was not complaining about a little change;honestly I didn’t want to make another scene :- on my fours picking up coins between people’s legs. I think I have had enough drama for one day.
In about 20 minutes we reached a residential zone where the stops became more frequent and people started getting down. Finally there was only an elderly couple in the front and me at the back.
The bus made another stop near an apartment complex. The driver switched off the engine, leaned out the window and started a conversation with a group of men standing about.
The elderly couple got up to leave. The woman gathered their bags and slowly walked to the door while the man turned looked at me and motioned me to come to him.
That made me a little nervous but I still walked over to him. Without a smile he handed me a small polythene bag and followed his wife out of the bus.Inside the bag was a bunch of coins. The passengers were picking up the coins for me.
Before I could get that warm and fuzzy feeling the driver of the bus spotted me and squealed in frustration. Talking to himself he threw his hands in the air and exited the bus.
I looked out of the window. All I could see were apartment buildings. This could not be the last stop. It has to be a fishing village. There was no sign of the sea anywhere.
I sat alone in the bus for 10 minutes. I was too embarrassed and scared all at once to get out and find a fishing village. This was the first time in my life I was out on my own. I had set out that morning to explore the fishing village of Lei Yue Mun famous for its seafood bazaars. Cowering at the back of a bus in god knows where was not part of the itinerary.
Luckily for me the old balding bus driver was soon replaced by a younger guy who knew a little English.
” You want to go to ‘Lei Yue Mun’? But it is the other way!”
So I made the journey again, this time in the right direction all the time tightly clutching the polythene bag with the coins. The young driver refused to take money for the return trip saying “Right bus,wrong way”.
Later in the day I would count the coins in the comfort of my hotel room to realize that the coins added up to a little more than 11 dollars !