Trouble in Beijing

Date: 7th August 2015
Local time: unknown
Location: A380 Airbus

It all began when I woke up in my auntie’s flat to a rainstorm. The time was 17:05, and I had overslept thanks to my grandmother who thought it better to let me sleep than be back at the hotel in time. A week had passed since the orchestra touched down in China, and somehow it was time to go, even though nobody wished it. A fourth concert please, we begged in our sleep.

In auntie’s car we drove up and out of the car park, beeping people out of the entrance who were hiding from the rain. A little girl under a link umbrella shouted “It’s hailing, it’s hailing!” And so it was, my auntie whispered, bemused and confused. How sweet of her to warn us.

My voice sounded worse from my reveille, as it were, croaking random chat with my aunt. Two nights ago an exhausting cold took over my body, an inevitable consequence of jet lag, concerts, sightseeing, sleep deprivation and seeing the sun rise on Shanghai, but that didn’t stop me from going out to a bar in the capital to celebrate our debut in Beijing. Nor did it prevent me from talking so as to be heard over the loud cheesy music. It was my first experience of Beijing nightlife, and one of the many things I learned was that a KTV club can look like a brothel at night and boasts a closing time of 6AM. (Don’t worry, we didn’t go.)

During the journey I was stressed and wanted to be back at the hotel in time, but did not want to ruin any final minutes with one of my favourite family with my moans. Her calmness and patience astonishes me, and I believe her when she says we will get there at 18:30. But it was hard, because heavy rain and a Beijing ring road during rush hour really sets one’s teeth on edge.

This is not the real drama, by the way. I got there fine and my aunt even had time to visit the nearby mall to buy a ukulele for me. However, I would only ever play it on my next visit home as she never did reach me that second time. By the time we had sat in our coaches, hailstones the size of golfballs were hurling into the ground and rattling the shell of the vehicle. My aunt faced the same ordeal and was stuck in traffic. Meanwhile we thought the roof might cave in. The force of these icy bullets made us realise how puny and vulnerable humans could be under mother nature’s bidding.

We turned into the main street, and forty contemporaneous intakes of breath filled the space. There was no concrete. The road we had drove on every day in the baking sunshine had turned into a sea of grey muck, that sent motorbikes and cars adrift, and people clinging on other people’s backs who were wading through the stuff. Locals stood outside their corner shops and restaurants filming it on their iPhones and a car at the end of the road was flashing its yellow lights.

Unknown to us, our suitcases were gently soaking beneath our feet, as the filthy water seeped through the cracks. We were forced to turn back into the hotel and wait until further notice. Aircon was off, probably to prevent water from ruining the system, and people were shouting in astonishment and despair in the situation. Chinese fans soon emerged and flapped to reduce the heat and some t-shirts had been removed from bodies. “I need to pee!” shouted a girl who had last night peed in a bin in drunken stupor during the journey from Tianjin to Beijing. It seemed more and more likely that we’d stay another night in Beijing.

Luckily we did not have to stay in a bus of the steamy windows. We walked around, investigating the scene at the edge of the water by the hotel gate. Clusters of wet leaves and branches lay on the ground and car bonnets. The water would effect a mini tsunami whenever a car drove past the hotel and we’d all have the run aside. Some even ventured along the wall beside the pavement. Hope was scarce, for the water refused to fall through the drains and the rain continued to fall.

Some whizz kids in my coach discovered a back route from within the hotel courtyard that led onto the main road. To reach it we endured excruciatingly tight corners and turns, the coach only centimetres away from walls and railings. When we saw the trees of the street we cheered in triumph. And then we groaned when we saw the traffic.

“Put your seat belts on. This bus is going to fly.” Indeed it flew, and noisily it did. The driver took no hesitation to press the horn. The message implied was “Get out my bloody way!” Things were going to be okay.

Stop. Grab. Run.

The bad news… Half my suitcase was soaked through. My jewellery drenched in muddy water, my jackets and socks dripping, iPod case and iPod damp, folder of sheet music browned. Thirty of us crouched by the check in desk rifling through our cases, an unlucky handful inspecting the damage from the flood. Fortunately my laptop was dry. My violin had been by me all the way untouched. My change of clothes could not be changed into, but I found other ones and jumped into them in 20 seconds. Flustered but relatively steady I joined the queue and dropped my case off.

Things could be worse.

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