Recently, my friend Diana and I decided to take the Chinatown van from Manhattan’s Chinatown to Flushing. It was the first time for both of us, although Diana’s mom, who lives in Flushing, regularly takes the vans into the city and swears by its convenience and record speed compared to the #7 train. Although largely used by Chinatown locals, the vans are becoming increasingly popular among foodies, hipsters and others as evidenced by the handful of Yelpers, who give the shuttle service, on average, 4 out of 5 stars, and barring some offensive comments, all generally tout its ease and reliability. (I was the only non-East-Asian person in our van.) And it was true, on a Sunday afternoon, for $2.75 each, Diana and I zipped from Division Street to Main Street in about 20 minutes.
It works like similar private vans in many parts of the world. They line up at dawn (one driver told me he works 6am – 11pm! — see Konrad’s post and a related article about the drivers’ grueling working conditions), throw open their doors and wait until all 16 seats are taken before leaving—which doesn’t take long. And even though it’s a relatively short ride (compared with the 45+ minutes by subway), most passengers knock out so that it’s even more of an eyeblink.
On our ride, I decided to interview passengers about their experiences taking the vans. First, I talked with Ee-chu, who was on her way with friends to have hot pot (which, Diana and I also ate after we toured the new New World Mall, which, for reference, 1) has great earrings, and 2) has a Grand Restaurant that is so grand, they were charging $99/person!). Here, Ee-chu speaks about her preferences for the van over the subway, Flushing over Chinatown and karaoke over homework:
Once we got dropped off in Flushing, we met folks waiting to take the vans back to Manhattan. I talked with Lina and Marisa, who both grew up in LES but were just visiting Flushing for the first time! They talk about buns in Flushing and displacement in LES:
Lastly, I had a great chat with Chris, a recent transplant to Flushing, and his friend, Regina, visiting from Philly. Chris talks about being part Jamaican/Filipino/Chinese with poor Mandarin skills and not experiencing racism in his new neighborhood. Regina talks about her Cantonese music blog, 903 Café, and proselytizing on the Chinatown bus from Philly: