Snowing In Tianjin

I made a winter trip from Tianjin to Hainan with a group of Chinese teachers and Korean students. On the flight back, the pilot made an announcement and a Chinese lady passenger began to scream. A Chinese teacher explained to us that the plane was now going to Beijing instead of Tianjin and the woman was not happy.

As the plane descended she quietened down and our thoughts turned to icy runways and freezing temperatures.

We stopped at the edge of the airport, piled into a shabby bus, and travelled forever. Then we were in the Beijing terminal and reunited with our bags. Tired and cold, our group huddled in the polar-blasted empty terminal and waited. People came and went. Time moved on. The cold began to numb our bones.

Then we heard a familiar ranting sound. A group steamed across the terminal with the screamer at the head. Her eyes were wild and her teeth bared as she made her way towards officialdom.

At the same time, we heard that our buses to Tianjin were ready. Polly and I were ecstatic. The driver started the engine, then leapt out and went back into the terminal. We waited. And waited. The Koreans went to sleep, the Chinese went back into the terminal and Polly and I grew more dismayed as the engine chugged on.

I staggered back into the terminal. The loud woman was haranguing a group of suits. Niu, one of the Chinese teachers told us, “She is not happy. She does not want to be here.”

Our leader Zhao arrived. “You must ring the New Zealand embassy,” he said. “You must tell them you are both being held here against your will,” he said. “Then we can leave.”

“I don’t think I have the number,” I said, and flicked through my notebook with my thumb holding down the relevant page.

Zhao brightened as he heard something. “We go now,” he said and in a flash we were again on the bus, the driver gunning the engine and giving us whiplash. As we left, the screamer’s troops ran out looking for a bus, and everyone cheered as we left them behind.

After a wrong turning or two (“These drivers do not know anything,” Zhao confided. “They are only airport drivers”), we left Beijing. For that hour of the morning, there seemed to be a lot of traffic coming towards us. We found out why at the tollgate. All six lanes were closed. So the traffic simply turned around, bumped across the median strip, and streamed back into Beijing.

A couple of hours later, the drivers found their way out again. We reached the centre of Tianjin and were dumped at 5.30 a.m. and told to find taxis.

We were told later that it hadn’t snowed in Tianjin that night. Because our plane was late leaving Hainan, somebody decided to close down the airport at midnight so they could go home to bed. I wasn’t surprised.

V Kirk

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