When I moved into my new place about a month ago, I noticed there was a bus stop right in front of my building. The only bus that stops there is the 498. I soon learned that the bus' route isn't like a regular bus that has one route and goes back and forth. This bus' to and fro routes are a bit different, which means I can only take this bus on the way back from work.
In Beijing, there are many different kinds of buses. There are standard every-decent-public-city-in-the-world sort of buses, double deckers, long snake-like ones which are cool 'cause you can stand in the accordion-walled swirly-floored middle of the bus and whirl around and there are old blue buses. The blue buses are the crappy ones. My 498 is a crappy bus. The 490 is one of them but a bit bigger than my 498. The 498 is the tiniest blue bus I have ever seen (about twice the size of those RAM vans) and if it's anytime near 5pm on any day, the bus is PACKED with people. Literally, PACKED.
One day I got on the 498 and the driver was constantly checking that there was sufficient water in the radiator which was inside the bus, exposed! with the cap off!!
But everything was fine and that hasn't happened again. (okay, mami?)
I've fallen deeply in love with the Beijing bus system. It's incredibly efficient and cheeeap (.40RMB if you have a card; 1RMB if you don't). At every stop they have signs explaining which buses stop there and every stop which that particular bus makes. So once you become familiar with the stop names it becomes extremely comfortable.
If I've never gone to a certain area before and I'm a bit self conscience about taking the bus what I do is take the subway as far as it will get me and then take a cab. While you're in the cab, you pay attention to nearby bus stops. Then it's always easier taking the bus back home 'cause you're not in a hurry and you're familiar with the place you're going. The next time you go, you can confidently go there by bus. Of course, be sure you know the names of the bus stops nearest to your house.
Or there is an extremely helpful site called BJbus. You tell them where your starting and finishing points are and they tell you the various routes you can take, and show you a cool map, too. The thing is you need to know the names of the locations in Chinese. The website has an English version but I'm not sure how good it is.
Something I did when I first moved to my house was to hop on this blue bus I love so much just to see where it went. It's a good way to find awesome places that you've never noticed like DVD shops, 两块stores, markets and good restaurants.
Enjoy and don't pay any mind to the ticket ladies, they're almost always like that.