For most of July I didn’t have a VPN set up, and couldn’t post anything. At the start this wasn’t an issue as, to be fair, I hadn’t been writing much anyway (apart from the regularly scheduled Pulp blogging of course), but towards the end of the month I seemed to find myself writing something every other day. A couple of these aren’t worth putting up, but this one seems to be interesting enough, with the context (provided at the bottom) of the following week.
It’s all getting a bit one-note round here, but that’s the summer it’s been – stultifying, humid, smoggy, and frequently breaking into eight-hour storms. Today was one of the most extreme weather days I’ve seen up here, so I’m likely to turn it into a memory of how things were all the time – that’s how it generally works, isn’t it?
This morning, woken at 5.30 by M as per usual, I looked out of our 9th floor window to see smog so dense that you felt you could touch it if you reached out. Solid non-air. A few hours later I was venturing out into it, the rays of the sun having heated it up to acceptable levels. My office has an arcade full of shops under it and so I rarely need to venture outside during daytime hours. Today was no different – arriving there I knew that I most likely had nine hours before I would be outside again. What I hadn’t anticipated was my not seeing the sunlight again.
At 1.40pm I went into class with a sweltering, humid day in full progress outside. At 2.30pm I finished the class and found that the view outside the window was so dark that you could barely see the next building. The sun had been swatted out by a vast and powerful thunderstorm, which then failed to let up for, well, it’s 11pm as I write this and it’s still going strong.
There had been a plan for me and V to meet John and Demi for dinner, but it became obvious that this wasn’t going to happen. Instead I went downstairs to have a drink with John at 6pm (he works a few buildings over, and can get over to my office with only minimal time outside). The underground foyer with 7-11 and the jienbing stand was leaking heavily and required four cleaners with wheelie-bins and mops on constant standby – not very reassuring when you’re two floors underground and your workplace is eleven floors up – floors which are presumably made of the same stuff that let all this water in.
At 7.30 it was time to go home. The rain was, if anything, getting heavier, so I gave up on the bus queue and took the underground passage to the subway station. It being Saturday evening, the train wasn’t too busy – I even managed to get a seat on the second one. It was when I arrived at our closest (not close enough) tube station that the real problems began. V had earlier demanded that I break the usual rules and get a taxi. Naturally in Tongzhou this means a “black taxi” – some guy with a white estate car who charges you double the price of a real taxi. After a few minutes haggling I agreed an extortionate price of 20 kuai (£2), and was taken to the white car under the driver’s umbrella. Inside were two other people, both going to the same place.
We drove out onto the main road and immediately found ourselves in a traffic jam. The driver decided to be clever and take a side-road, but this just led to us being jammed permanently. Any small movements in the main part of the road were not generally mirrored by movements on the side. We went perhaps 50 metres in about half an hour, the driver frequently getting out of the car to walk forward and check out our chances. On one of these trips he met a man with an umbrella who described some kind of accident ahead and told us to turn around – a physically impossible request. Luckily at this point the line started moving more quickly, and after 15 minutes we’d gone another 50 metres and could take a side road. There was an odd atmosphere on the road – a combination of annoyance at the situation and relief that we weren’t out in the storm. The other drivers and passengers seemed to have a blitz spirit going, and were cutting each-other up a little less than usual.
As soon as the driver found a side-street he could take, we were off down a maze of unlit alleys which had turned into fully fledged streams. He was driving at full pelt, and was very lucky not to flood the engine. Eventually we reached the alley which we generally know as “the market” but of course it was completely deserted, save for piles of rubbish, fruit, bricks, etc., which we managed to negotiate somehow.
I only had to dash for thirty seconds to reach the door of the apartment building, and did so with a plastic bag over my head, but still I managed to arrive home drenched, and had to take a shower straight away. V and the family had been stuck inside all day, with her sister unable to make the ten-minute walk back to her house at any time in the afternoon.
Ok, now I’m tired, not really sure any of this is interesting, but it all seemed very dramatic and vivid while it was taking place, and I hope I’ve managed to get that down.
The next morning, along with the rest of the world, I found out that it was a little more than simply a particularly long storm. Inadequate drainage had led to widespread flooding throughout the city – flooding which the local government and police had seemingly been unprepared for.
The death toll the following morning stood at 10. A day later it was 37. The last I’d heard it had reached 77. The mayor and deputy mayor have resigned. And yet everything seems to be much the same, for me at least.