|wake up and smell the coffee|
So far, so normal. Gayle sets off up the road before me as there's a hill ahead. I dawdle a bit. As I set off I approach the climb on the inside of a bend in the road. Two big trucks are coming in the other direction and then a small minivan overtakes them on the bend. The hard shoulder is really narrow here - and there's a concrete barrier so there's nowhere for me to go. It's not the first time this has happened but I don't like feeling so vulnerable. As the minivan hurtles close by I express my disgust with two fingers and continue plodding up the hill. A few minutes later a van draws alongside of me and a young man opens the side door and starts talking to me. I'm not sure if he's offering me a lift. But he's shouting. All Chinese shout when they talk. No, he's really shouting and he looks a bit angry. And then I realise who they are, just as he pulls out a short steel bar and whacks me on the backside with it. It's them. They go past Gayle and then stop. The bar didn't really hurt me - we were both going at the same speed I guess, and my arse is kind of fleshy. But now I'm slightly afraid. Why are they so mad? I'm the one who nearly got run over. The road is deserted - no-one else around, although I'm not sure it would make any difference. The Chinese tend to stay out of things that don't concern them. We know this because we had just heard about someone beaten to death in a McDonalds and none of the customers or staff tried to intervene. This disturbing thought crosses my mind. The van is doing a U-turn and coming back. I shout to Gayle to get off the road. She is trying to photograph them. They drive by and the young guy hurls an empty beer bottle at me. He misses by a mile. They've gone. I am so angry but feel powerless. Gayle is understandably a bit jumpy when we carry on, because so many vehicles pass close by with a beep, but we figure that if those goondas really wanted to hurt me, they would have stopped the van and got out. Good job they were in a hurry. We don't say much for a while that afternoon. Afterwards we decide that a) they must have been drunk and b) I shall no longer express my disgust with hand signals, but just swear under my breath.
Later on we stop in a town to restock our food and on the way out a young man with a smart phone waves and asks to photograph us. Towards sunset we come to another town, bigger. Growing. We get a glimpse of heavy industry down the valley. It takes ages to get through the town and the light is fading. Our road out of town is going towards a gorge - never the best places for camping with a cliff on one side and a river on the other - but happily the penultimate building in the town is a hotel. Nice, new, affordable. We stop and unload and while the family try and work out how to record our details on the police website, as all hotels are obliged to do, we are invited to sit down and take some tea. Mum pours us green tea in tiny porcelain cups while 8-year old Son and Dad try and decipher our dates of birth. A couple of men join us for tea and one speaks a little English. Not enough, but he gets out his smart phone and we use a translator to ask each other questions. Mr.Zhang is very friendly and welcomes us to Fujian and China. He wants to know if we have eaten, where we have come from, where we are going, what do we do etc. At one point he offers "This is safe hotel. We are all Hakka people." I find this strangely reassuring after the events of the day.
|in safe hands|