Tales from YBS

Bus rides are my favorite experience to observe people. Various kinds of people with different appearances and personalities hop on the same bus, interacting with each other for a very brief period of their lives. Does it sound interesting to you, too? Because it does to me.

It wasn’t long ago that our notorious bus system, MaHtaTha, was taken over by a new system called Yangon Bus Service(YBS). In the beginning of 2017, our beloved Kwee Phyo and his cabinet changed the bus system and introduced YBS. By buying new buses from China, both the authority, bus owners, drivers and passengers stepped into the new era of Yangon’s public commute. Each stakeholder struggled in their own way to adapt the new system. In good ol’ Burmese fashion, there were complaints, criticisms towards this system change, be it on social media or during teashop conversations. Despite its earlier struggles, YBS today plays an important part of every middle class Yangonite’s day.

Being one of those Yangonites who relies on YBS for her daily transport almost every day of the week, I take YBS one way or another and I enjoy my rides. Sure it isn’t all comfortable like taxis but it is a fair price and decent ride if you secure yourself a seat. Bonus for me is that I get to observe people on those rides which expose me to people and offer me stories to write.

Past two weeks, I had been taking bus almost every day and as usual, hunting for any incident that would inspire me to write. YBS are now air-conditioned and even entertainment are installed in some. Instead of angry navigators, we now have bells to indicate the driver when we will get off. It did not take a lot of time for passengers to get used to the new system because we were desperately waiting for a better bus system without angry navigators.

Scratching back at my brain, I remember the first time I took bus was when I was little with my mom. Then I thought about the very first time I took bus all by myself which was 12-years-old me going back home from school. It has always been a norm to give up seats for monks. A couple seats in the front are labeled as “priority seats for monks” and people give up their seats whenever monks hop on. That is a non-verbal understanding among commuters but nowadays, with even better facilities, people tend to forget about small selfless act on buses and it saddens me.

A week before, I saw an old lady who was about 70 years old, hopped on and got seated on a bench. One bus-stop later, a middle age monk stepped into the bus, hoping he could find a seat at priority place. But unfortunately there was no priority sign on this certain bus and passengers on front rows were looking away. I wasn’t sure if they did not see the monk or they completely ignored him. Only they would know.

For about ten awkward seconds later, the old lady gave up her seat for the monk and stood up rest of her ride. I was hoping someone on the seat gave up his/her seat for the old lady but no one did until the woman got off. I thought to myself that it was a shame. It was clearly a bystander effect occurred. I could have given my seat to the woman but I was secretly hoping someone else offered his/her seat because I myself did not want to give up mine. That also made me a bystander and I wasn’t proud of it.

The question we have to ask ourselves from this first incident is that whether we should prioritize strong and healthy monks/nuns or old and weak elderlies on the bus. 

Last week, very similar situation happened on my ride back home. This time was a 60 years old man who did not get a seat during his ride. He was a fairly wizened old man with white hair all over his head so I assumed he deserved a comfortable ride however long his trip was. Once again, there was no single volunteer, even on the closet seat to him. I tried to think from someone else’s point of view. Maybe they did not find this man old enough to give a seat or maybe they just did not want to give up their comfort. I had been there before and I knew how it felt to be internally conflicted. 

To experiment how people react, I kept observing but only about a minute or two later, a girl from afar gestured him to take her place. The old man didn’t refuse her offer. He walked to her place, thanked the girl and took the seat. The girl, on the other hand, stood for another 30 minutes, but she did not look like she minded about having to stand up nor cared about people who didn’t give up their seats. She just minded her business throughout her ride. However, the one who did not mind his own business was the old man. I guess he felt responsible for the girl having to stand up, so he kept looking out for vacant seats as people dropped off. At one point, he poked the girl to show a vacant seat but it was so far from her that other someone else took the seat. At the end, the girl got off without having seated for the rest of her ride.

What I learn from this observation was that even if one does something selfless, nobody cares or notices. Nobody is going to give up their his/her seat just because you gave up your seat for an elderly. So if you decided to do something selfless, expect nothing in return. We should never do selfless act just to be applauded or recognized because not everyone is going to.

Sometimes, we do things for others, hoping to get appreciation for what we do but turns out, the world doesn’t work that way and heroism doesn’t work every time. So if you want to do something selfless, as small as giving up your seat on a crowded bus, do not expect anything because having expectations wear you out. Expect nothing in return from anyone brings you the peace of mind.

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