I never thought that riding a bus could be a metaphor for life – living both at the beginning and the end at the same time. How is that possible? I did it for years. The bus stop at the corner of Perkins Road and Moorsom Road in Jardine's Lookout was both the beginning and ending point of bus line number eleven, and of my day as well. I rode the blue double‑decker, British‑style bus every day for years as I plied my way both up the hill and down the hill every day, to and from my day job in Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island.
Every morning, I could hear it turn off Tai Hang Road and begin its relentless tortured climb up Perkins Road to the last stop at the top where I lived. The hill was steep and formidable, but the driver would downshift right at Cooper Road and grind slowly upward. Once I heard the engine's change of pitch, I knew that I could slow my pace, as I couldn't make it to the stop in time. The next arrival would be in twenty minute's time. If I dashed out the door before the shift change, I could make it – but just barely. If I could make it to the edge of my cul‑de‑sac, the drivers would smile and wait for me to come on a dead run in the hot tropical morning sun – panting.
"You are running late, Mui Sang," they would say in a faux scolding way in their scoffing Cantonese. All the drivers on bus line number eleven knew me.
"Yes, but I am your first customer, so I am very important," I would say, throwing in 8 mao (.80 HK cents) with a clatter. "Yes, and you will be the last one later as well!"
Like the circle of life ... the end of the line for some is the beginning for others. If I had been a Buddhist at the time, I would have certainly seen this paradox as a metaphor for reincarnation.
I was always the first passenger to climb aboard bus eleven, and the last to stagger off – hot, tired, and fried at the end of the day. The mornings were great, as I would immediately climb to the second deck and claim the very front seat, where the open window would allow for airflow into a space that within no time would be packed with hot, sweaty, and very loud Cantonese. About halfway home I could usually make my way up there again as the sardines gradually exited the can.
The first time I was asked how I got home from work I simply answered:
"I ride bus eleven."
"Really?" was the incredulous reply. The Chinese all seemed rather surprised – even shocked. "Isn't that very far, hot, and steep?"
"Of course," I answered, "but there is a stop right at the top of Perkins Road, next to my cul‑de‑sac, and it is both the first and last stop on the line!"
They all laughed in unison. "You're kidding! There really is a bus eleven?" they intoned.
"Of course," I replied knowingly. "It goes from Central through Wan Chai, Causeway Bay, up Tai Hang Road, through Jardine's Lookout, and back. It's a loop." They laughed again, but in a different way. I was confused.
"The joke is on us!" they chuckled. "In Cantonese, to ride bus eleven means to walk ... go by foot." They all demonstrated with two fingers how the number eleven represents two legs walking. I loved it. I had become a little bit more Chinese that day. From then on, I always thought of saying: "...and yes, Virginia, there really is a bus eleven!"