4 March 2009

the wheels on the bus...

...go round and round.

Last weekend we had the good fortune of going for a short trip out to Prey Veng Province to visit the work sites of some of our MCC colleagues. One of the more interesting parts of the trip was the bus trip there.

In what appears to be typical Cambodian fashion, this bus trip was about as chaotic as can be imagined. The way these bus companies work is that all the buses going to the same location leave from the same place, from where they have to compete with each other for the same passengers. It's every bus for herself. So as soon as a person carying a backpack gets within sight, they are descended upon by half a dozen bus attendants trying to make their best arguments for hopping on their bus. A particularly persuasive argument involves having your bags taken from you and placed on a bus for you. This really narrows your options down to hoping on the bus that already has your bags. It makes the decision much easier.

I tried to give my bags to the lady that said her bus was leaving in 10 minutes. It was later explained to me that what she meant was "our bus leaves as soon as there is no more room for anything in or on it. But if you would like to hear that our bus is the type of bus that leaves soon I don't mind telling you this". Oh cultural misunderstandings!

These buses make money by compensating for unreasonably low fares with unreasonable amounts of stuff to transport. About two hours later our bus was still sitting there waiting for more passengers to take up the last conceivable places for people to sit. When the seats are full, they simply put stools in the aisles.

At its peak, the bus had packed 34 people into the 15 passenger seats, not to mention bags of straws, flour, cooking oil, metal wire, and other miscellaneous goods meticulously packed under and between the seats. The best part is that since it took us so long to hit the road, by the time we got going we had to stop, before even getting outside of Phnom Penh city limits, so that everyone could buy bread!

[on the bus we listened to a great Classic Rock Liberation podcast, made by our brother-in-law Chris Lopez]


SuJ'n said...

I remembered this experience in China. "When are we leaving?" "In ten minutes." "It's been twenty minutes; when will we leave?" "Just ten more minutes." (etc. etc. until all seats were purchased and filled.) As a westerner, it was very hard to grapple with the loose interpretation of schedules.

How are y'all holding up otherwise?

Veronica . . . said...

I love reading your stories. This makes me rethink my chagrin at an overly-full express bus on my Vancouver commute to work this morning. :)

Zack said...

Is that a box of Diamond Brand Turds strapped to the top of the bus?

Mark said...

When you click to enlarge the picture, there becomes no doubt that there is diamond brand poop-in-a-box on that bus. The foliage is just decoration.