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Learning to love and the statistics of Ms Shi

BS3Gaining deeper insights about the Bus Station South was, as it turned out, simply a matter of negotiation and patience. But could we be seduced by it in a way that would parallel the temptations of the Railway Station South?

The official at the Information Desk, who spoke no English, referred us to the Director of Operations and he referred us to the Director of Customer Services, Ms Shi. We met her on the actual day of the Fourth Anniversary of the Bus Station.

I was really interested in some further understanding of the movement of migrant workers, but decided to frame this enquiry with some more conventional questions.

Clara and Ms Shi became deep in conversation, while I learned to appreciate some of the finer qualities of the physical environment.

We learn that there are 17,000 people arriving here each day by bus, while 40,000 come by train. Most people who take buses are from neighbouring provinces: about 50% from Zhejiang Province and 40% from Jiangsu Province. So people coming longer distances arrive by train. They are mainly from southern provinces like Guzhou, Yunnan and Fujian. These are the very long-distance travellers. This had not been my theory. I thought they came by bus.

There are roughly 900 buses going to about 200 destinations every day.

By now we had been invited into her office on the other side of the complex, beyond the waiting passengers and the parked buses. She told us more. The Bus Station South is considered, as bus stations go, luxurious. It is privately owned by five shareholders who invested about 0.2 billion yuen (£20 million) in the building and its infrastructure.

There was no bus station here before, while there has been a railway station since the 1920s. They have made great strides. At the opening there were only 81 buses a day and a staff of a mere 210. The long distance bus companies pay to use the station.

I sensed her understandable hesitation in revealing too much, while, at the same time relishing giving over the information and impressive statistics. Who were these people turning up on spec on the fourth anniversary?

Her office was classically international, her desk iconic, her pot plant wilting. We could have been in Detroit or Reading. For this reason I asked to take her photo in the office. She politely refused. Fine. I was pushing the envelope. Not for the first time I wondered if we’d have got this far in the UK, cold calling at Victoria Coach Station.

She and Clara were deep in conversation. Ms Shi had a lot to say. I sat back and listened, imagining what was unfolding: “We run a tight ship… very smooth… top of the range… passenger through-flow… ready for Expo… customer satisfaction… international focus… security…. ”

I smiled carefully and consistently. It seemed the right thing to do. She smiled back now and again. On reflection I wonder if this was more out of embarrassment than engagement:

Unfortunately, from one cultural group to another there is a great deal of variability about when one smiles or laughs and what it should be taken to mean…. It has been widely observed that Asians in general tend to smile or laugh more easily than westerners when they feel difficulty or embarrassment in the discourse. Intercultural Communication, Scollon and Scollon.

As we left her office, and I looked for more ways to love the Bus Station, I wondered if I was trying too hard. This may be a luxurious terminus but it’s not quite classy. Just look at the toilet for example. And “maintenance is tricky as the building is made of glass, an imported material of irregular size and hard to replace when broken.”

Meeting Ms Liu before going to her office

Meeting Ms Shi before going to her office

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