CHINATOWN EX­PRESS

From Bos­ton to New York to Cal­i­for­nia, Chinatown bus lines bat­tle stereo­types and cre­ate a life­line be­tween Chi­nese-Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties 往返与纽约与波士顿之间,唐人街巴士连接着一个个华人社区,他们与刻板印象做斗争,在争议中艰难地运营

The World of Chinese - - News - TEXT AND PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY TINA XU ( )

From Bos­ton to New York to LA and the South­west, Chinatown bus lines are a pi­o­neer in bud­get travel and a bil­lion-dol­lar in­dus­try in the US. As these im­mi­grant busi­ness face cor­po­rate lob­by­ists in­tent on shut­ting them down, they pro­vide a life­line of es­sen­tial ser­vices be­tween Chi­nese com­mu­ni­ties

SATUR­DAY, 5:27 P.M. NORTH QUINCY T STOP, BOS­TON, MA

I just want to make sure you come to take three min­utes.”

does a head count, click­ing her ball­point pen in­ter­mit­tently. The driver re­turns from his cig­a­rette break. He clips in his seat­belt, closes the door, and the en­gine purrs to life.

The bus lurches from the park­ing lot, out jour­ney ahead.

It was along this route, be­tween Bos­ton bus travel was born two decades ago. Now tens of mil­lions across the United States ev­ery gar­ment work­ers to visit their chil­dren at­tend­ing col­leges in Bos­ton. Nick­named bus lines pick up at hun­dreds of stops on the trans­port­ing work­ers to jobs, and con­nect­ing in­di­vid­u­als with ser­vices in ur­ban cen­ters.

stops in the Deep South and din­ers com­mu­ni­ties in Amer­ica are linked by veins of gaso­line and steel.

SATUR­DAY, 9:45 P.M. MAN­HAT­TAN CHINATOWN, NYC

ar­rival, we are cross­ing the bridge into glit­ter­ing sky­line. The bus drops off are at least seven bus com­pa­nies that whisk pas­sen­gers across the coun­try

coach pulls up at a store­front, which unas­sisted into a com­part­ment on the side of the bus and are waved on­board.

smok­ing onl mu­si­cian and fa­ther of

he bused ta­bles, de­liv­ered for a noo­dle fac­tory, and shut­tled gar­ment work­ers in a van be­tween Brook­lyn and Man­hat­tan. In 1997, Liang bor­rowed 60,000 USD from fam­ily mem­bers to start his own com­pany.

“Some peo­ple start restau­rants,” just four vans.

Liang told him that they wished to visit their chil­dren at col­lege, Liang bought a per­mit to carry pas­sen­gers on fed­eral high­ways. In 1988, Liang USD roundtrip, half the price of other bus com­pa­nies. Liang em­pha­sized, “I re­ally wanted to pro­vide a ser­vice to peo­ple who don’t speak English.”

In one month, Liang in­creased his ser­vice from one trip per day to three. Over sev­eral years, vans be­came hour days driv­ing buses and run­ning

FROM THE CENTER OF MAN­HAT­TAN TO TRUCK STOPS IN THE DEEP SOUTH AND DIN­ERS OF THE SOUTH­WEST DESERT, CHI­NESE COM­MU­NI­TIES IN AMER­ICA ARE LINKED BY VEINS OF GASO­LINE AND STEEL

op­er­a­tions while his wife ran the ticket

It was pre­car­i­ous busi­ness. Liang paid bus driv­ers 100 USD each round trip, which could take eight to 10 hours of driv­ing, av­er­ag­ing to about 11 USD per hour. It cost 700 USD more to cover the tolls, fuel, main­te­nance, and in­surance per USD; if it was empty, he lost money. Nev­er­the­less, there was po­ten­tial to make thou­sands in one day—and for many years, Liang did.

Other bus com­pa­nies cropped al­most overnight, ex­pand­ing routes

usu­ally con­sisted of a tick­et­ing agent stand­ing on a curb with a hand­held soft­ware de­vel­oper Xiang­ping com, an on­line sales plat­form for were listed in English, and the prices blog­gers de­scended upon the buses like a divine rev­e­la­tion.

FRI­DAY, 3:39 P.M. SOUTH STA­TION, BOS­TON, MA

easy smile, she tells me that she left be­gan work­ing in a sport­ing goods that closed, her hus­band found an

Back then, tick­ets were 15 USD one way. “The lines were al­ways so long, there was no time for me to sit!” she ex­claims.

com­pe­ti­tion reached fever pitch on In what be­came known as the “fare wars,” tick­ets dropped as low as 10 USD each way, with com­pa­nies some­times op­er­at­ing at a loss to con­tinue their ser­vices. Be­tween 1997 7 mil­lion an­nual rid­ers across the North­east United States, tak­ing 60 in the re­gion.

It wasn’t long be­fore the stal­warts of the Amer­i­can trans­porta­tion in­dus­try be­gan to take notice. In­ter­na­tional bus com­pa­nies did what they could to cut down on com­pe­ti­tion, of­ten mir­ing and pro­tracted le­gal bat­tles; small im­mi­grant busi­nesses did not have the

I had al­ways won­dered why Bos­ton’s South Sta­tion bus ter­mi­nal

NA­TIONAL BUS COM­PA­NIES OF­TEN MIRED CHINATOWN BUSES IN GOV­ERN­MENT BU­REAU­CRACY AND PRO­TRACTED LE­GAL BAT­TLES; SMALL IM­MI­GRANT BUSI­NESSES DID NOT HAVE THE POCKETBOOKS TO FIGHT

“YOU HAVE TO DO THE WORK THAT THE WHITE PEO­PLE DON’T WANT TO DO. YOU NEED TO WORK HARDER THAN WHITE PEO­PLE—IF YOU’RE LAZIER THAN THEM, WHO WILL HIRE YOU, RIGHT?”

rather than at a curb­side like in other cities.

and or­dered all buses to cease curb­side op­er­a­tions, leav­ing only one ter­mi­nal ter­mi­nals in South Sta­tion.

their own curb­side in­ter­city bus lines teamed up again to launch Bolt­bus. Decked out in bright col­ors, with out­lets, cor­po­rate bus lines went for the jugu­lar of the col­lege stu­dent and young pro­fes­sional mar­ket.

Although it’s still one of the larger is now past its boom era. Tick­ets never ticket stand, and the agents sit play­ing

off—in be­tween you just wait.”

SUN­DAY, 8:42 A.M. TOP CARE PHAR­MACY, FLUSH­ING, NY

Af­ter the Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion cracked down on curb­side pick­ups, op­er­a­tors rented out their own store­fronts and lease them to each other. In smaller cities, the bus picks up wher­ever con­tracts can be ne­go­ti­ated. The sched­ule ag­gre­ga­tor Su­per­mar­ket in Rockville, Mary­land.

Kings and Shell gas sta­tions are the most com­mon lo­ca­tions.

Many of the newer com­pa­nies dif­fer­en­ti­ate their ser­vice by adding stops in small cities or out­ly­ing

An el­derly Bos­ton woman with a bright blue rolling back­pack and a not young any­more,” she laughs

“Re­tire­ment can get bor­ing,” she is easy to feel iso­lated or cut off from com­mu­nity life, es­pe­cially in sub­ur­ban ar­eas. It’s the rea­son why my own decade ago, rather than face the lonely hours when my par­ents were work­ing and their chil­dren at school.

As bus net­works ex­pand to more across the coast, I marvel that a sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian with lit­tle English abil­ity has eas­ily trav­eled hun­dreds of miles alone sim­ply to have din­ner with friends.

SUN­DAY, 1:28 P.M. PANDANYBUS, MAN­HAT­TAN CHINATOWN, NY

net­works of fam­i­lies and friends, com­mu­ni­ties with those liv­ing in smaller towns.

sa­lons, or for un­doc­u­mented peo­ple a bus ticket can be lit­er­ally a ticket out of poverty. Many pas­sen­gers work per­mits or im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus. A asy­lum visa, proof of eco­nomic sta­tus trans­la­tion, visa ex­ten­sion, work quick di­vorce.”

in Man­hat­tan, pas­sen­gers queue for the 3 o’clock de­par­ture to Rich­mond, ges­tur­ing to two gi­gan­tic suit­cases They’re cheaper to mail from New “Nike shoes here can be as low as 30 1,000 RMB for these shoes!”

Mrs. Lin tells me that she has worked know a word of English. I started to 10 at night. I got home 11, had no en­ergy to do any­thing ex­cept watch

A STREET AD, EN­TIRELY IN CHI­NESE, LISTS SER­VICES REN­DERED: “STU­DENT VISA, 10YEAR VISA, ASY­LUM VISA…GREEN CARD, RE-EN­TRY PER­MIT, QUICK DI­VORCE”

some TV, call peo­ple back home, and go to sleep.”

“If you want to make some­thing of your­self in this coun­try, you can’t be work that the white peo­ple don’t want white peo­ple—if you’re lazier than them, who will hire you, right?” I nod ten­ta­tively. “In law, we are all equal, but at work, on the street, this is still the white peo­ple’s coun­try.”

I open my mouth to say some­thing, but Mrs. Lin adds with an edge of here to change our mingyun”— our des­tiny.

Liang be­lieves in des­tiny. Af­ter 17 years of build­ing his busi­ness into an op­er­a­tion with mil­lions in an­nual

US Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion cit­ing cracked frames, fraud­u­lent ve­hi­cle main­te­nance records, and fail­ure to test driv­ers for drugs.

Safety is para­mount, of course. But and reap­plied for its op­er­a­tional li­cense, the ap­pli­ca­tion was de­nied. Af­ter spend­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands

How­ever, by that point its ter­mi­nal in Bos­ton South Sta­tion had been snatched up by other lines. Due to the was as good as a death sen­tence—with nowhere to pick up pas­sen­gers, what was the point of hav­ing trained driv­ers sink­ing big bucks into lawyers, Liang sur­ren­dered his busi­ness.

lines were driven by me­dia re­ports on safety from the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion. a blog in which he lists news re­ports of ac­ci­dents on bus lines across the in­dus­try.

into a truck due to a sleep­ing driver, and a Bolt­bus driver was caught four pas­sen­gers died when a Me­gabus a Bolt­bus crashed and slid down an em­bank­ment, hos­pi­tal­iz­ing 14. These com­pa­nies were not the main tar­gets of politi­cians ral­ly­ing around safety, nor asked to cease op­er­a­tions.

that it “didn’t sur­prise any­body” and bus line sto­ries with pithy ti­tles, such that a man was lit­er­ally be­headed and can­ni­bal­ized on­board.

As schol­ars Ni­cholas J. Klein and An­drew Zitcer write, “Buses serve as mov­ing ar­tic­u­la­tions, con­tain­ers for pas­sen­gers’ per­cep­tions of com­mu­nity, they serve real, un­met needs.

look­ing man, per­haps in his late 30s or early 40s, dashed in and out the de­pot, drop­ping off gro­cery bags. There were now ten. “They’re hot pot in­gre­di­ents,” the man says, smil­ing. “I’m a big eater.” In Rich­mond, the in­gre­di­ents “don’t have the jl peo­ple like so much.”

Two men wheel a card­board box in hinged lid con­tain­ers,” the box says— they are the sty­ro­foam boxes used for take­out. The box is placed next Seafood, live Dun­geness crab.”

The next morn­ing, those boxes could rid­ers whose fresh mem­o­ries of 70th birth­day par­ties and grand­chil­dren ring in their ears. And as they pull away en route to the next com­mu­nity, aboard hold­ing empty suit­cases and com­fort­able po­si­tion to sleep.

Though Chinatown buses orig­i­nally trans­ported Chi­nese gar­ment work­ers to work, they are now a pop­u­lar mode of low-cost trans­porta­tion well be­yond the Chi­nese com­mu­nity

Pas­sen­gers load their lug­gage be­fore the 7-hour ride to Vir­ginia aboard Tiger Bus

Cal­i­for­nia-based, Viet­namese-owned Hoang Ex­press pro­vides lunch: a banh mi sand­wich and a bot­tle of wa­ter

In Man­hat­tan Chinatown, the epi­cen­ter of Chinatown bus lines in the north­east, bus com­pa­nies rent out store­fronts in or­der to use the curb­side for pick-up

In South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, the North­east bus model has been em­braced in a re­gion where pub­lic trans­porta­tion is even sparser and Am­trak prices higher.

Chinatown buses are pop­u­lar among stu­dents like An­drew Huang, who rides home to New Jer­sey for the win­ter hol­i­days

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