Back in college, I used to ride the Chinatown bus to go home to New York during breaks. The bus went from Boston’s Chinatown to the Chinatown in Manhattan, and at $10 per ticket, it cost less than half as much as Greyhound or Peter Pan. The ride was sometimes a bit loud — a Hong Kong flick might be showing – and occasionally ghetto — one bus driver kept answering phone calls during the trip because he was also the bus line’s customer service rep.
The bus companies were rumored to be fronts for Chinese gangs (actually, they were blackmailed by the gangs). And once in a while an accident involving a Chinatown bus would make the headlines. But no one cared; it was cheap as hell and that’s what mattered.
A search online revealed that several bus companies offer the route, but I went with Fung Wah for old times’ sake. Actually, Chinatown buses can take you to cities up the down the East Coast — Albany, Philly, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Cincinnati — the West Coast and even as far as Toronto. Check out this map.
A NY-Boston ticket for the Fung Wah bus cost $15 this time, and almost none of the passengers was Chinese. One college kid was slowly, intently reading Lolita: a freshman, I guess. A collegiate-looking group in front of me munched on fried chicken from Popeye’s.
Across the aisle, a tattooed guy was explaining to his girlfriend how to eat zong zi, which, if you haven’t had one, are one of the most delicious and fun Chinese foods. He took out his zong zi, slipped off the white string, and unfolded the bamboo leaf that held together the pyramid of savory sticky rice. He noticed that zong zi were rather similar to the Latin American tamale, and we started discussing whether these two foods could be related somehow. (I’m guessing they developed independently, but I’d love to hear from any food historians or Chinese-in-Latin America specialists out there.)
An hour into Connecticut, we were crawling along I-95 in Friday afternoon traffic when the driver suddenly pulled over. Turned out another Fung Wah bus had broken down; we took on 10 people.
But for the most part, the bus ride was very normal.
Five and a half hours later, when we arrived in Boston, I discovered that Fung Wah even had a proper gate at South Station — no more offloading passengers in the middle of Chinatown. Plus a real ticket counter.
Now if only they could do something about the traffic on I-95.