Thursday, February 14, 2008

Chinese New Year, part 5

I was finally on my way back to Chengdu, in the car with Shawna and the wife’s cousin and brother. The problem, though, was that her brother was some kind of electrical maintenance guy, and with the amount of fireworks people were setting off with no concern for little details like other buildings or power lines, we hadn’t gone ten minutes before we had to pull over so he could call somebody about a power outage he had seen.

Shawna and I got out of the car to stretch our legs every time we stopped and it looked like a war scene. Every building in China maximizes capacity by having at least ten floors, so your view is restricted to the street you’re on, and a few degrees of sky right above you. I heard booms coming from every direction. All I could see was an occasional burst of firework tendrils coming from behind one of the surrounding buildings. The sky would light up blue or pink, and then I’d hear another boom. I’d turn around and see a kid off the sixth floor with what looked like a rocket launcher firing out of his window. There were discarded boxes all over the street, people running around shouting things—the only thing the war scene was missing was dead bodies strewn on the floor.

Later when we got onto a main road there were people setting up massive fireworks in the street, and one time I heard the firework remnants rain down on our car we were so close.

After stopping a few times, the brother started vigorously talking to the cousin about how he wouldn’t be able to leave. The cousin was saying that they had told me I could go back, so they had to get me back. This was the time when it was good to sit back, be the foreigner who didn’t really understand what was going on, and let them figure things out. I think I heard brief talk of how much a taxi would cost, but eventually we stopped in front of some building, the brother got out of the car, and some other guy got in. I still don’t know who he was, but apparently he was there to replace the brother.

The girl explained the situation to him for a while, as I’m sure he was rather unhappy about driving an hour and a half just before the biggest celebration in China, but he finally was satisfied.

We passed most of the ride in silence, just looked out of the window at our 360 degree fireworks show. At all times you could see two or three fireworks shooting up from various parts of the city.

When we came into Chengdu itself, I realized that neither the driver nor the cousin knew how to get to my apartment. I actually have a reasonable knowledge of the city, and knew that we were in the right sector, but wasn’t sure whether our turn was in front of us or behind us. Their solution to this was to stop in the gap between the off-ramp and the highway while they called someone to get directions. This gave me lots of time to imagine a drunk Chinese car ramming us from behind right into the partition and all of us being smashed to pieces like human fireworks.

The calls went smoothly, though, even though they still didn’t know where to turn, but as we drove I recognized a street and got us home from there.

And then, at 2:30 in the morning, a little more than 24 hours after I left, I got back to the family’s apartment with Shawna alive and healthy. What an adventure.


Anonymous said...

We have been enjoying your missives! I can hardly wait for the next installment! Your life will seem mundane when you get back home. We do "think" of you everyday.
Love you, Grammie & PopPop

Keating said...

Sounds like I was safer in San Francisco's Chinatown during the New Year.