On Wednesday, I took the bus to work as usual. The bus was a bit crowded.

I didn’t think much of it - most of the people around me were familiar faces, mostly office workers and students, with others being aunties and uncles out for grocery shopping, to the market, or to the hospital.

The Beginning of Autumn has passed, yet Shanghai’s weather remained hot. The morning sun only used a fraction of its strength, already making the road sizzle and causing the distant high-rise buildings to distort from the heat. Inside the bus, there was the unique humid heat of Shanghai, with the hot air outside seeping in through the windows, mixed with the dampness and sweat inside the bus, making it hard to catch one’s breath.

# Aunties

“Driver, why isn’t the air conditioning on?” Almost as expected, the auntie beside me couldn’t hold back and her voice pierced through the others, reaching the driver.


“The air conditioning!”

“It’s on! If you open the windows, it won’t work well, just close the window, open window air conditioning can’t function properly!”

“Why is it cooler outside the window than inside? What’s the deal?” Other aunties and uncles started to comment, trying to put pressure on the driver.

“You see it yourself, the air conditioning is definitely on, why open the windows if it’s better to keep them closed?”

The auntie was clearly not satisfied with the driver’s explanation, but with people in between, she couldn’t confront him directly in the driver’s seat. She muttered a few words and took out her phone to watch short videos.

As the journey continued and we passed several older neighborhoods, more elderly people got on the bus. Occasionally, when I saw someone less mobile, I would think of giving up my seat. However, I was sitting closer to the inner part. Glancing at the auntie beside me, who still had a furrowed brow, I didn’t want to ask her to stand up. I just put that thought aside and buried my head in my phone. Luckily, most of them got off after a few stops, so I could endure standing for a while.

# Elderly Man

Lost in my thoughts, I suddenly heard a loud noise from the front of the bus - it turned out that the driver was asking the elderly man standing near the back door to take a seat!

After about half a minute, I realized what was happening. Standing at the back was an elderly man, in his sixties or seventies, with rumpled brown corduroy jacket and black coarse linen pants that had turned white in several places, with a pair of hollow eyes behind his wire-framed glasses.

Before I could get up, another young man had already offered his seat to him. The driver seemed somewhat pleased, “Well done, young man!”

But the elderly man seemed indifferent, as if he had not heard anything, still holding onto the railing tightly, his eyes empty and unwavering as he gazed outside the window.

“He’s talking to you,” the auntie beside me said loudly in Shanghainese Mandarin, almost venting the frustration she had due to the air conditioning issue onto the elderly man, “the driver asked this young man to let you have a seat!”

The elderly man raised his eyebrows, seemingly understanding now. I also understood - he couldn’t understand the Shanghainese Mandarin spoken by the driver.

He shuffled towards the seat that the young man had just vacated and muttered, “So he wanted me to sit, I thought he was suspecting me.” His voice, although quiet, sounded exceptionally loud in the metal box of the bus. Initially, people were whispering, but now it seemed like an eruption of energy, and everyone burst into laughter.

The Shanghai auntie beside me persisted, “The driver is being nice to you, asking this young man to give up his seat for you, and you thought he was suspecting you!”

“Thank you,” whether out of embarrassment or just going with the flow, the elderly man managed to squeeze out these three words from his mouth, with only two teeth remaining.

The auntie seemed to notice the elderly man’s reluctance and loudly responded, “Yes, this is Shanghai!”

The driver, through the auntie’s translation, asked the elderly man where he needed to get off and instructed him to walk slowly when he reached his stop. Satisfied, the driver returned to his seat and continued driving forward.

The auntie’s words sent chills down my spine. In over twenty years, no one had been so resolute saying such words, let alone making me truly feel that Shanghai is such a tolerant, loving, and inclusive city. Yes, the auntie was right, this is Shanghai!

# Lady

As I was savoring the beauty of Shanghai, there was suddenly a commotion from the driver’s end - it turned out a young lady was unsure whether to board the bus, standing at the door looking at her map, delaying the driver from closing the door and moving.

The lady repeatedly apologized, but the usually understanding driver didn’t take it lightly, criticizing her sternly. “How can I drive with you standing here?” “You want the whole bus to wait for you?” “Can’t you check the map before?” The lady didn’t dare to utter a word, swiped her card in a hurry, and went to stand at the back. However, the driver continued to chase after her, his questioning mixed with the heat of the moment.

The auntie beside me couldn’t sit still, as if she was the bus attendant, “Driver, start driving, can’t you be more patient with her? You’re responsible for everyone on this bus, focus on driving!” As the auntie spoke, everyone else on the bus started to murmur, contributing their opinions in hushed tones.

With everyone’s effort, the bus finally started moving.

# Are We There Yet?

As the bus inched closer to the final stop, I felt somewhat dazed, as if I had just gotten on the bus.

As we approached the stop, I prepared to get off with my bag on my back. Surprisingly, the auntie next to me had already noticed and politely put away her phone, standing up to make way for me. I was almost anxious, standing up and heading towards the back door.

Outside the door were the ubiquitous plane trees of Yangpu, the scorching air blurring my vision, like every summer in Shanghai. I felt a bit unfamiliar with it all.

As I got off the bus, I turned around to watch the bus slowly depart, feeling as if I had never gotten off the bus.

Perhaps, this is Shanghai - it embraces warmth, but also has its quirks and faux niceties. Getting on and getting off the bus, no single thing encompasses the entirety of Shanghai, but each thing is Shanghai.