Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Very bad things

The day of bad memories has come and (nearly) gone.

My spirits have largely recovered; they had done so a day or so ago, really. The clearing shower on Sunday evening and the (mostly) bright sunshine we've had since have helped to blow the cobwebs away. Perhaps my fit of melancholy was, after all, more of a 'seasonal affective' thing brought on by last week's drab grey weather (or by the difficulty I have sleeping properly when the weather's hot and/or humid) than any calendar-based anxieties.

It wasn't even the anniversary of a bad thing that happened to me, and I should be wary of over-dramatizing it, of seeking to make it my story, my trauma.

I have alluded to this on here once before. Three years ago today, someone tried to murder one of my best friends. There had been a girl involved. A Chinese girl. My friend had been going out with her for quite a while, but decided to break it off. He really hadn't treated her at all well, to be honest - but he didn't 'deserve' what happened to him next. It turned out that she had a rival suitor, Chinese, an old friend from her home town who was violently unhinged and fancied himself as a bit of a small-time gangster. He ambushed my friend in a public urinal, striking several times at his head and upper body with a long-bladed hatchet before running off. My friend managed to stagger back to the nearby pool hall where I was waiting for him unawares, waiting to continue our regular Saturday evening 'best of 7' contest. He was a mess. He had one particularly long and deep wound across the side of his head - that might well have split his skull open; luckily it hadn't, but it had nicked the artery in his temple. He had quite a few other lesser - but still ugly - leaks as well. I have never seen so much blood in my life; and I hope never to see so much again.

The taxi ride to the hospital seemed to last forever; in fact, it only took 25 minutes or so, but in my memory it feels like days. At first, I was all calm determination. My inspirations (always a cinematic reference with me!) were: Harvey Keitel in the opening scene of 'Reservoir Dogs' (yes, that much blood) - "Look me in the eyes. You are not going to fucking die."; and Ed Harris's steely mission controller in 'Apollo 13' - "No-one is going to die on my shift." I felt as if I were keeping him alive by a sheer effort of will. And that was so devastatingly draining, I think my psychic reserves are still not fully restored to this day, and perhaps never will be. I lost part of myself that night.

And despite all the bravado and confidence I invoked from my macho man role models, I began to weaken near the end. Suddenly the sense of my impotence became overwhelming. Yes, I could try to staunch his wounds; yes, I could try to keep him calm and focused and upbeat.... and conscious; yes, I could yell at the taxi driver to go faster (and enlist the help of Chinese friends on my mobile phone to try to impress the sense of urgency on him); but at the end of the day, there was precious little I could do in the way of First Aid, and I had absolutely no control at all over the things that were really going to make the difference between life and death: the driver, or the traffic.

We got lucky. At that time of the day on a Saturday, the roads in central Beijing are often gridlocked; but we were blessed with a relatively clear run over to the foreigner hospital on the east side of town. And I'd phoned ahead to the emergency room. We probably didn't have an awful lot of time in hand: by the time we got there, he was losing consciousness, deathly pale, his veins were closing down.

But he made it. He's fine - only faint scars; and, as far as anyone can tell, remarkably untraumatized by the event.

Around the anniversary, I find myself getting a little anxious. It's not just an emotional flashback (although it is partly that); I have some continuing fear for my friend's safety. The culprit is still at large, and might well be still in this district of Beijing (although I did hear a rumour a while ago that he'd gone back to his home town of Harbin). Although his identity is a matter of common knowledge locally, the police scarcely bothered to investigate the incident at all, and certainly made no effort to find the guy and bring him in for questioning. (And, as you'd expect, the British Embassy was also utterly bloody ineffectual.) I have no reason to suppose that this thug knows - or any longer cares about - my friend's whereabouts. And I hope that after this lapse of years his ire towards my friend will have weakened; but it's not easy to be confident of that - and psychopaths tend to remember anniversaries as well. So, I'm always somewhat uneasy, somewhat darkly introspective around this time of year.

And this is one of the things that makes me so intolerant of your typical 'China blogger' whingeing about his "bad China experiences". Oh, please, don't even go there. You have no fucking idea.

On the other hand, I think this has made me a lot more tolerant of this city's horrendous traffic and its often geographically-challenged cab drivers. I don't enjoy being delayed in a cab, but..... I tend not to get too uptight about it any more either. I think to myself, "So - I'm going to miss a meeting, a cocktail date, a flight..... It really doesn't matter."

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