Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Turning up the temperature in HELL

So, I have a non-event of a class with a trio of especially irritating students in far-away Wangjing...

How much worse can it get??

Well... last Wednesday, a torrential downpour began half-way through the class.

The streets flooded. Taxis withdrew themselves from service. Buses became appallingly overcrowded with damp, sweaty, irritable people (such as myself).

But, you know, at least I'd managed to get on a bus within a few minutes of finishing the class. Not so bad, right?

Well.... the bus driver decided not to halt at the bus stop but 50 yards up the road - I assume, purely for the sadistic pleasure of seeing a dozen drenched office workers being forced to leave the comfort of the bus shelter and run as fast as they could - through a particularly deep puddle! - to reach him before he decided to close his doors again and pull away.

And my dipshit students had misinformed me about which bus stop to use, so I had unwittingly got on a bus going in the wrong direction. I had been alert to this possibility, but it took me a while to verify which direction I was going - because I'm not familiar with this part of town; because the bus stops in this part of town do not (as they do just about everywhere else) have their names written on them; and because the notification of the stops onboard, by both digital sign and bilingual pre-recorded announcements, had been disabled by the driver. I realised after one stop, by asking a fellow passenger; but was then stuck on the bus for one more stop....

And the bus stopped moving... Now, traffic over on the east side of Beijing gets pretty horrible in the rush hour at the best of times. And heavy rain makes things even worse (as everyone, for once, starts driving over-cautiously). But our problem seemed to be almost entirely down to an absurd piece of traffic management by the Beijing authorities: at the major junction we were approaching, the red light was against us for 5 or 6 minutes or more at a time, and then turning green for barely 30 seconds! I kid you not. Utterly f***ing CRAZY! It took us over 25 minutes to cover a distance of about 200 yards to the next stop.

And the driver - helpful, cheery, philanthropic soul that he was - obstinately refused requests from myself and several other passengers to open the doors and let us out. There was no safety issue: we were near the side of the road, and no other traffic anywhere around us was moving for minutes at a time. But the driver insisted on keeping us trapped inside the bus. It was a nightmarish experience; it had begun to seem that the ordeal might drag on for hours, forever. Had I really died and gone to hell this time?

When I did finally get out into the open air again, it was such a blessed relief that I was not too concerned about being LOST (very few street signs in Wangjing; and those there are, too small to read in such poor visibility), in the pitch dark (very few streetlights in Beijing; and those there are, heavily shaded by the ubiquitous goddarned trees), ripe for ambush by lurking potholes and ankle-deep sewage-tainted puddles. So, it's 8.15 at night, and it's pouring with rain, and I haven't eaten yet, and I'm 10 or 12 miles from home - but it's not that bad, right? I mean, it's not like I'm going to have to walk all the way home?? Er.... 

There were a lot of taxis around, parked near this junction, or sailing past - but they didn't want to take any fares. Not from a laowai, at least. Everyone, it seemed, either wanted to take a break while traffic conditions were so "dangerous", or was only interested in heading out to Shunyi (although the eastbound traffic was logjammed, while the westbound route into the city was remarkably empty). 

Eventually I found one enterprising shifu who was willing to consider taking me back to civilization 'off the meter'. Ordinarily, it would be a 35 or 40 rmb metered fare. 50 rmb would be a not unreasonable hei che rate. In these extreme circumstances, I was willing to consider offering him 100 rmb. But he asked for 200 rmb - and that, I thought, was taking the piss a little bit too much.

So, I gave up on that vain exercise. I got my bearings and started to walk. I was soon back in modestly familiar territory, and managed to duck into a bar for an hour to get some food, and shelter from the worst of the storm. Once the rain starting slackening off again, it actually started to feel quite pleasant to be the only person out on the streets, and to be making progress towards home - although it was now becoming soupily humid, and I didn't have a very good pair of walking shoes on, and there was still a long, long way to go...

However, after making such a good start, I probably should have persevered in my walking - at least until I got to a subway station.

Alas, just shy of the Third Ringroad, I unexpectedly managed to flag down a taxi. And this was really NOT the driver I needed to be meeting at the end of such an unusually stressful evening. 

He was the archetype of every complaint everyone - foreigner and Chinese - makes about the Beijing taxi service, a blackly comic exemplar of every imaginable negative cab driver trait. His registration number was 27****, one of the most recent ones, so my heart began to sink immediately. He STANK to high heaven (I don't usually like to comment on the personal hygiene of these folks, since I think laowai disdain in this matter is patronisingly overplayed; and I do have a lot of sympathy for how hard drivers work and how limited their opportunities to bathe are - but this guy was like a tramp, his body odour was making me gag!). He drove at a crawl, even when there was no other traffic nearby. He was reluctant to go into the city centre, and pretended not to know (or perhaps genuinely didn't know?) where anything was. When he was eventually persuaded to accept directions from me, he insisted on trying to correct my Chinese pronunciation every single time; indeed, he enjoyed this game so much, he started asking for confirmation of which way we should go at every junction, and would then correct my pronunciation of 'straight on' or 'turn left' two or three times with wry mockery - at every single junction, every 15 or 20 seconds. Jeez, that was a LONG ride!!!

I was VERY GOOD. I did not punch him in the face. Nor, indeed, did I punch the next three people who annoyed me unnecessarily that evening in the face. But I did fantasise about it very vividly. And I beat the shit out of my sofa for a couple of minutes when I finally got home.

I am lobbying for this bloody Wangjing class to be cancelled. If I am unsuccessful, and it rains again, expect to be reading reports of a foreigner running amok in north-east Beijing and strangling cabbies or bus drivers.


John said...

I've just spent the best part of an hour reading about half of the entries of your blog; I too have a fascination of sorts over China but in reality I think it's a morbid fascination. There was a time when I would have said that I would have liked to have met you so we could share the seemingly endless frustrations that China has to offer together and hopefully enjoy some of the better bits too but those fleeting feelings these days have mostly been replaced by ones of abject terror of the whole damn crazy place.
I'm British so I 'get' the things you write perhaps more wholly than others do and were we to bump into each other one day I'm sure our shared nationality would make me feel more welcome than the feeling some other expat might be able to conjure up. This is why I'm enjoying reading your posts so much.
When I think about places to visit China used to be pretty high on my list, heck, I chatted to people on QQ for about a year but the more I learnt (only backed up by your blog!) the more I feel that if I ever arrived I would gradually degrade into a mental case.
Please carry on writing, I'd like to check back here now and then! Through your writing I get the safe (and cowardly) experience of "the Heavenly Kingdom" (if heaven is like that send me to hell...) but none of the effects which for me is perfect!
One last thing- you mention that you're also a bit of a photographer but there are no photos of the endless trees, insane drivers or random abject violence. I'd really like to see some of these, yes really! I couldn't find it but do you have another site where you host these?
Anyway, I've taken up enough of your time, I just felt the urge to leave this so thank you for your writings, I'll get back to reading more of them now.

Froog said...

Welcome, John. It's always good to welcome a new reader, and especially a new commenter. We don't have many of those these days.

If you delve back into my early archive, you will notice that there were often several comments per post, and a few 'regulars'. Most of those people are, I think, still reading - but not commenting any more. Blog-commenting seems to be dying out, as more and more folks become consumed with these more ephemeral 'social media'. Sigh.

I'm sorry to have put you off visiting China. I'm still here after 9 years, so it can't be that bad. The tone of recent posts has been particularly negative - and I have apologised for that once or twice. Summer is particularly difficult here: the heat, humidity, and pollution can sap the will to live (yesterday was apocalyptically AWFUL, visibility down to a few hundred yards). This week is a particularly bad time for a very personal reason, which I will probably touch on in the next day or two. And in general, I've reached my tether's end because I've been too long without a change of scenery - haven't escaped the damn country in nearly two years now, and getting a little stir crazy.

Expect some more upbeat content soon!

Froog said...

Re; the photography, I'm afraid that interest has waned rather in recent years, perhaps as the time spent writing has increased.

Also, I find I HATE digital photography, and am still trying to cling to film.

More particularly, I hate my digital camera. I bought a Nikon D50 5 or 6 years ago, but I still haven't mastered a tenth of its features; I find the damned user interface utterly opaque, nonsensical. I managed to lose the battery charger for it when I moved apartments 18 months ago, and haven't yet bothered to replace it.

Moreover, I am bereft of Photoshop now. My two ancient laptops (which I still keep for emergency backup) have both reached the point where their memories are so maxed out that Photoshop no longer works. And my new computer doesn't have the program. You can reframe and change size and do a few other simple tweaks with the Microsoft Picture Viewer, but it's not a very sophisticated tool. So, digital photography is effectively denied me at the moment (apart from a Canon happy snapper, which I also hate).

Down the bottom of the tag list, you will find a Photo Week (1) - where I posted nothing but my own photographs for a week. I had intended to make it an annual or bi-annual event, but....

Thanks for the interest. I will try to start putting a few more photographs on here again.

Froog said...

Here's my Nikon D50 rant, and the week-long meander through my photography efforts is here.

Froog said...

And had you noticed, John, that I have another blog, about the nightlife scene here, Barstool Blues?

Not that I wish to eat up all of your spare time, but... In recent weeks, there has been some much funnier and less gloomy stuff over there.

Anonymous said...

Still reading Froog, but I've pretty much stopped commenting on all blogs. The conversations seemed to have moved off the blogs and onto the 'twitter'. I don't have much worthwhile to say with 144 characters and after giving social media a few chances, I haven't seen much worthwhile to read either.

The content on facebook and twitter is absolute drivel, but I can't really justify spending the time to comment on blogs anymore when so few people are participating these days. Sign 'o the times I suppose.

After my failed thru-hike I've been trying to get to China, bad timing and all. if I'm in Beijing I'll drop you a line.

Froog said...

Good to hear from you again, HF.

I felt bad about not commenting over on your hiking blog, but... Well, as you might have noticed, I have been more than usually frantically busy over the past couple of months. I missed the sudden start of your attempt; I looked in a few days in, when you were already encountering difficulties, and felt that this was the kind of miserable time you had to get through on your own, that you might find comments of commiseration or encouragement a bit of an annoyance when you were facing such a painful decision. And then you did have to quit, and I couldn't think what to say in that circumstance - particularly as a latecomer to the blog, who hadn't contributed anything previously. I can barely imagine how frustrated and disappointed you must have felt. You know I was rooting for you.

It sounded as though your foot was in a really bad way. I hope you're mobile again now.

And I shall do my best to provoke into an occasional comment on here. Just because the Internet sheep prefer to bleat their 'tweets' these days, it doesn't mean that the rest of us have to abandon lengthier and more considered interactions.

Froog said...

And I would love to welcome you to Beijing. Let me know if that is going to happen.