Yesterday, online for PNW Writers Coop, I did my first semi public reading of Chengdu: sojourns in the land of abundance. The selection was from chapter ten Paradise City–Fuling. It covers my taxi ride from downtown hotel in Fuling to the Fuling train station.
All and any comments, edits, and critiques are welcomed. Enjoy!
The following morning, I departed Fuling. I got a taxi in front of the hotel. The lime green, white-roofed taxi was driven by a young twenty-something-aged fellow. His cropped black hair and wide smile put me at ease. I had practiced my request to go to the train station. He understood and said it was no problem. Famous last words . . .
He drove through town, weaving in and out of the early morning commuter traffic. He talked incessantly on his cell phone. We entered a long tunnel inside which the traffic noise squelched loud and harsh on the ears. It reverberated with loud rumbles from trucks and high-pitched brakes. The concentrated exhaust fumes smelled bad.
The chatty taxi driver lost his focus on the traffic flow. In front of us, the tunnel traffic had come to a standstill. The driver didn’t notice. Imminent danger loomed in front of us. Swiftly, I reached my left arm across his chest and yelled, “Watch out! STOP!” But I was too late. We rear-ended a big, white SUV. The SUV lurched forward and rear ended another car in front of it. I slid forward in my seat with my right hand outstretched to catch the dashboard while my left laid firm upon the driver’s chest lest he go crashing into the steering wheel. The taxi’s front hood crumbled up and back. Smoke steamed up from under the damaged hood.
The one thing I had feared most of all in China had now happened: being in an accident on the highway. The fear was omnipresent, and it didn’t matter who drove. How people drove on the roads simply frightened me. They weaved, swerved, tailgated, and drifted in and out of traffic lanes without care. Blinkers and rearview mirrors went unused. People drove in the oncoming traffic lane as if it was an extra lane available to anybody on a first-come, first-serve basis. It maddened my Western driver’s etiquette, but beyond that, the recklessness and lack of any decorum on highways displayed a complete misunderstanding of physics. It denied that metal mass times velocity resulted in a mangled steel carnage of great proportions.
The driver told me to stay in the car. He remained with his ear glued to the cell phone. I waited ten minutes and saw that nothing had changed. I got out. The four-lane tunnel hummed with cars, buses, and trucks. Their headlights blinded me. The noise made me deaf and crazy. The exhaust suffocated me. Behind us, I saw that another rear-end accident had occurred. The situation tunneled into a nightmare. The two other cars’ occupants from our three-car crash gathered to exchange information. The two lanes on our side of the tunnel studied hard on how to merge. Behind us, the other fender-bender tried to sort itself out
I felt helpless and unsure about my options. I had a train to catch, but I was stuck below ground with a restless, mean, exhaust-spewing dragon. I decided I had to get out. I shouldered my daypack and gave a goodbye to the driver. I had him accept fifty yuan for his troubles. He tried to refuse, but I told him to keep it—it was he who was having the bad day. He turned and waved goodbye. Along the inner wall of the tunnel clung a two-foot-wide elevated walkway. I took it and escaped the snarling dragon tunnel. After about a twenty minute walk, I emerged into the hot sunshine. I searched for a bus stop, found one, and waited . . . but obviously, with the tunnel plugged, no buses would come anytime soon. I walked to an off-ramp petrol station to use the bathroom. There I found a bus, #102, that assured me it was headed for the train station.