August 19, 2004

Let's get these wheels rolling, man!: Experience Trimet, Part V

These days, I'm riding the #8, the diversity bus. This bus goes to the VA Hospital and to OHSU, where Jurgen had his final surgery a few years ago. Because OHSU is on a hill with lots of twisty curves in the road up there (and because there's bad and prohibitively expensive parking up there), most folks take the bus to OHSU. In the other direction, the #8 goes to NE Portland, which is more culturally diverse than most other parts of Portland.

Yesterday, there was a homeless Vietnam vet coming back from OHSU, a guy trying to take the bus from the hospital to Vancouver, WA and not knowing how to transfer, two African American sisters going to the mall, and a host of other people.

I won't forget the group of Vietnamese women who were having a great time gossiping on their way to the mall a few days ago. They were sitting in the bench seats in the front of the bus. One of the women had her young daughter (probably age 7) with her, and she was sitting in the first set of seats facing forward. The mother was looking in the direction of her friends (and therefore away from her daughter, who was essentially behind her)while they enjoyed their chat. The whole time, though, the mother had her hand on her daughter's knee. Meanwhile, the daughter just sat there quietly, not being allowed into the adult conversation in front of her. I wondered what the girl was thinking. She and I made eye contact a few times, but never a smile from the girl. Just a neutral expression until she followed the women off the bus and into the mall.

Where am I going with all this? The bus is, to some degree, what Mary Louise Pratt (1991) terms a contact zone. It's a space where cultures collide, and sometimes not just metaphorically. Different communication styles, nonverbals, eye contact, physical space issues...these are all observable on the #8. It's a great place to be an observer of--and participant in--the intercultural.

Posted by chri1010 at August 19, 2004 10:11 AM