Here is a an old article from 2007 written by an expat about living in Haikou, Hainan's capital. In a sense it can could be considered an historic document since the author authenically describes the highs and lows of the now defunct old private buses.
"I’ve been an expat in Haikou, the capital city of Hainan (China’s southernmost province) for the last couple of years. Living here is…quirky. Water buffalo amble down the palm-lined streets (but hardly ever downtown)…wild looking men and women, covered in mud and with long matted hair stroll around town in their birthday suits…a local tofu dish, beloved by the Hainanese, is the foulest smelling thing I’ve ever encountered.
My favorite quirk was bus route #209, serviced by what the expat community here calls “suicide buses.” These white-paneled mini vans raced through the city at breakneck speeds–it wasn’t unusual to see two or three at a time storming down the street, locked in a battle to see who could get to the bus stop–and the fare–first. Whenever I felt lethargic, for two yuan (about 25 cents), I could hop on one of these buses; by the time I got off, my adrenaline was pumping.
It took two people to man a suicide bus. The driver was usually male. I think one of the prerequisites for the driver was that he be addicted to betel nuts (as evidenced by teeth stained brown from constant chewing). Some drivers ground their teeth, others rocked manically back and forth–all drove fast. One late-night bus ride home, I watched the speedometer climb to 75 mph, no headlights.
The second person who helped run the bus was usually a woman, often wearing a baseball cap. Her main job seemed to be collecting money and screaming at people in Hainanese, the local island dialect. Before the bus could squeal to a halt, she would throw open the side door, lean out and try to hustle passengers aboard. I once saw one of these conductors grab a waiting passenger by the sleeve, and try to strong-arm him inside before he broke away and hopped onto the bus he wanted.
Once you were aboard, the bus seeped with mystery and pungent odors, the air thick with the smoke of Hainan tobacco and the soft sound of a language that sounds like stones skipping on a river. Most of the passengers were locals, men and women in cone hats laminated with pieces of shiny wrapping paper. At their feet lay baskets of all types of goods: dried herbs or mushrooms, sticky rice, skeins of rope, sheets of aluminum.
I went on vacation during the summer, leaving Haikou for a short time. When I returned, the suicide buses were gone, replaced by green and white, air-conditioned city buses (on renamed route number #44), a phosphorescent “No Smoking” sign next to a digital clock. The drivers are quiet, and efficient–no need for conductors now.
The only nod to the “suicide buses” that were is a handwritten sign saying “#209” in the lower right-hand corner of the windshield.