China was a very different place back in the day, and my times there from 1993 to 2000 are what I like to call my “Indian Dan” period, as every day would bring what amounted to an episode of “The Amazing Race Asia”. My job as a chemical engineer in the leather industry took me to over 14 provinces and although I did spend plenty of time in the big cities like Shanghai, 90% of my time was spent out in the back waters, which resulted in some very interesting journeys.
The benchmark was set in 1994 while travelling through Haining province east of Shanghai. These were the days before China discovered you could build roads that had more than 2 lanes & mobile phones weren’t around to help you out when in trouble. My then able-bodied assistant, Henry, (his chosen English name) decided that the best way to get to our destination would be to take a train that actually sped past our final destination without stopping, resulting in us then getting a taxi for the final leg.
Step one; buy a ticket from the old Shanghai train station. The best way to describe this would be to picture a million dollars being dropped on 10,000 people in a room and asking them to distribute the wealth evenly absolute pandemonium. Two hours later we boarded the train and headed for Hainan, which we duly arrived at problem free 3 hours later (you can now drive it in 2 hours btw).
Step two; find a taxi that loosely resembled a car, not an easy thing in 1994. After the usual 20 minute dispute over how much we should be ripped off, we left for our next port of call, a small town of half a million people in the middle of nowhere. An hour into the journey, the said taxi decided it didn’t want to go any further after its gearbox collapsed into a heap on the road, or that’s what it sounded like. So there we were, stranded in the middle of nowhere, no phones, no way of finding another taxi and getting rather cold and frustrated. As usual, my assistant was about as much use as a chocolate tea pot, so I took the initiative to stop a passing small bus that was doing the rounds and ask the driver if we paid him lots of money ($10.50 roughly) would he be so kind to take us to our hotel that was about 40 minutes away. It’s important to point out at this stage, that the bus already had 8 passengers, 2 of which were chickens, probably just on their way home from the market and looking forward to their tea, or be tea, who knows. I’m guessing they weren’t expecting a magical mystery tour of the countryside when they woke up that morning, as the sight of some extra coin persuaded the driver to conform to our wishes and head off in a totally different direction the said passengers were hoping to go. I’m sure the chickens were happy to prolong their time on this planet for an extra 2 hours, but I’m not so sure about their owners who were forced to come along for the ride.
Eight hours after leaving our hotel in Shanghai, we arrived at what would be my regular home every month for the next 5 years. We paid our driver and said farewell to our new found friends and their chickens.
This whole adventure would be repeated over and over again with slight variations across China, on multiple forms of transport, each time gradually eating away any tolerance levels I had managed to build and restore when back at home base in Singapore. Thankfully, there’s always been golf to remind me why I did what I did to be able to play and I eventually managed to find the odd golf course to take out my frustration and thank my lucky stars I wasn’t born into this world a chicken in China J
Next up, “Tails of the Gold Monkey” and how to rent your own plane in the Philippines at short notice.