One look. One shared moment. Spontaneous laughter filling the bus. Almost every square inch of that bus was occupied. The Chinese people as a group seem to act more like sardines than humans at times, and mass transit is definitely one of those times. The airport shuttle bus was packed with at least 8 times more people than there were hand holds or seats. Then there was the luggage. Everyone had someone else’s hair in their mouth, breath on their neck, and backpack or suitcase shoved in their ribs. The woman next to me, her head covered with a beautiful hijab, her young daughter sitting on her lap and her two sons and husband standing practically on top of both of us, was beautiful and quick to smile, obviously excited and full of energy about the adventure ahead.

The shuttle pulled up to a door at the airport that looked somewhat like it was halfway between being under construction and halfway to being abandoned, as if the workers decided the effort was worthless and gave up mid job. The unlit sign over the door stated “International Transfer” as the English translation to the Chinese characters, and myself and this little family were both looking for a transfer within China — domestic, not international. But as soon as the bus stopped the doors opened and every single sardine human on the shuttle poured out with determination I’ve only seen matched by my cat trying to catch a laser pointer dot on the floor. It was palpable. There was no question as to whether we would be stopping anywhere else at the airport. We were willed to get off that bus.

The woman and I looked at each other at that exact moment just as the doors opened and the mass started to push as one, with the exact same expression of confusion and fear like “what are we supposed to do?” The hilarity bubbled out of both of us instantly. Our laughter was so quick and loud that it managed to fill every single miniscule space on that bus that wasn’t already occupied by a body or suitcase.

Different cultures, different countries, different languages, and yet… commonality formed a bond in a moment of pure divine madness and joy. I wanted to hug her for not just assuming that since I was American I must hate her. It had been two days of traveling with no laughter or shared connection with fellow travelers. Unlike my last trips this one was just tough physically and emotionally. My spirit was weary. She revived me. To the beautiful young Muslim mother traveling somewhere in China with her family, I thank you. Salam alaikum! Om shanti!

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