Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Of Floods, Rock Slides, and Cows In The Road

You may have heard that there have been heavy rains in certain parts of China, including Jilin Province where we stayed for a few days. Personally, I had given the weather very little thought (except, of course, when I was on the verge of being blown off the mountaintop!) Little thought, that is, until our drive from Changbaishan to Yanji, during which our driver kept muttering in Chinese, "Why are there no cars coming the other way? And, more ominously, "What time is your flight tomorrow?"

And wouldn't you know it, on cue, the traffic suddenly came to a complete stop, on a part of the road right next to a swollen river. Turns out, there were some workers up ahead, clearing the road of debris. It was not clear to me whether this brief delay was construction or weather related. Regardless, as we started back up, I asked shifu (our driver) if there were likely to be any other problems ahead. Wo bu zhidao. "I don't know." Uh oh...

A little while later, as we crossed a high mountain pass, there was evidence of mudslides all along the way. But it ended up being a construction project that caused us the biggest concern. With the road narrowed to one lane, we started to cross the affected area. But then suddenly a series of vehicles appeared, coming right toward us from the opposite direction. The road crew did not have people stationed at each end, regulating the flow of traffic so that things alternated smoothly. As for us, awkwardly caught in the middle, the dicey moment came when shifu decided not to retreat and to negotiate the minivan down a one-foot high, debris filled border between the lane we were in and the lane we needed to get to in order to pass through. As this move unfolded, I noticed that Desi moved over to the right side of the car, in an effort to prevent the car from tipping over. For my part, I was leaning hard to the right as well.

Safely through, our driver spent the next couple of minutes spewing invectives about how stupid Chinese people are. He did, thankfully, interrupt his tirade long enough to swerve around a cow that had decided to lay down right in the middle of our lane. Just another day on the roads of rural China...

~Steve

PS: As an aside, shifu was an interesting guy. At one point during the drive, apparently comfortable with us after two days together in a minivan, he asked me when I thought the Chinese Communist Party would be overthrown. I responded that I would be dead by the time that happened. Bu dui! came the response. "You are wrong!" "But the Chinese people seem so happy with the government and with their increasing standard of living." Shifu's response? "We say we are happy on the outside, but in our hearts it is not that way. The government just grabs our money and doesn't give enough to the common people." As if on cue, we passed a small factory that, according to shifu, was not along ago farmland that had been claimed by the government as a way of attracting foreign investment. A familiar story, for sure. It just came from an unusual messenger...

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