seen on the road

October 8th, 2009

We were standing by the side of the old G110 highway at about half past two yesterday afternoon waiting for a bus into the county town. It was actually quite chilly; the weather was grey and damp and the temperature hadn’t risen terribly much since sunrise. I’d seen two buses heading up the road to Xiaying, but Ma insisted three had gone by. I guess she’d seen one pass as we were walking down the village lane to the highway and I’d been looking elsewhere. Xiaying is a fair distance up from our village, and with traffic, who knew how long we’d have to wait?

A convoy of ambulances came up the highway, heading northwestwards, new, they must’ve been, with no licence plates, about a dozen of them. Along the sides was painted “中国妇女发展基金会” – China Women’s Development Foundation. Across the front, “田家健康快车”- at least, that’s how I remember it. Both Google and Baidu are swapping 母亲 for 田家 in their first few results. To be honest, I can’t be arsed with more than a cursory search right now. Nor can I be arsed finding out if there’s an official English translation. “Rural health express” would be my first assumption, but 田家 means a farming family, so maybe “Rural families’ health express”.

Yes, I could easily find out what these ambulances are about. Google and Baidu have turned up a number of articles on the ‘母亲’ version of these ‘健康快车’, but as I was standing there on the side of the highway, cold, with my pack on my back waiting for the bus, I was thinking, hey, cool, they must be headed for northwestern Hebei where they’ll be like some kind of mobile clinic providing basic health care to rural families. But assumptions are easy. Based on where I was standing, the lack of licence plates on the ambulances, and the highway they were travelling up, the could’ve been headed for northwestern Hebei, northern Shanxi, southern Inner Mongolia, or…… And to do what, exactly? ‘Mobile clinic’ is a nice idea, but I just don’t know. Still, it was an encouraging sight.

And then after about half an hour of standing under the trees that line the highway a bus finally came on its way back from Xiaying into the county town. Jam packed. Sardine can packed. Ma said, forget it, we saw three go up, there’ll be another bus along soon, and that’ll have space. Normally by this time I’m thinking, whatever, just get into the county town, but Ma said, no, wait. And sure enough another bus came within ten minutes, and with seats still spare. Sweet as. We piled on, we got seats, and off we went, me staring out the window as is my wont.

I was surprised to see at the entrance to a road running up the side of the next village down two large concrete blocks not blocking the road, but giving drivers serious reason to slow down, and two women in red armbands sitting on chairs on the side of the road. Geez, this village’s committee was taking National Day security seriously. But several other village lanes and side roads had, if not concrete blocks, one or two red armbands standing around watching. I suppose I should’nt be surprised, I mean, the same is still happening down here in Beijing, but I can’t see how there’d be any kind of security threat over this holiday out in those villages. Just farmers going about the harvest and their children coming back from the city for the holiday, surely.

And then at the base of the Shijinglong skifield the highway hooks a right, swinging round to the south for the run into the county town. Just down from Shijinglong what had been a construction site last time I came down that road in early August was now a giant “生态园”- ecological garden. But given that it was dominated by a huge cavern of a building made almost entirely from glass with the plants inside arranged in very pleasant order, I’m guessing it’s the kind of place that hosts numerous wedding banquets every weekend. A little further down was a more traditionally Chinese-style courtyard of a certain order of magnificence taking shape.

The highway ducked under the new G110- the highway built specifically to keep heavy trucks out of regular traffic- and the Dalian-Qinhuangdao railway, and then the electronic voice announced that the next stop was “Yanqing Fuochezhan”. Yeah, I almost missed our stop because of what came out the speakers as a more typically southern (Hunan, and a few other areas) subsitution of ‘f’ for ‘h’, but I caught myself in plenty of time, wrangled the pack over to the door, made sure lzh was with me, and all was good.

I don’t know how permanent the move of the 919 bus terminal to this lot next to Yanqing Railway Station is, but there’s a building going up there, and there seems to be a lot more space for the herding and storage of buses there than at the old bus station. Even so, it’s still, at this stage at least, a very temporary-looking affair, the concrete on the ground looking like it was very quickly poured, the railings to marshall the queue looking to have been installed on the run, and the street-side walled off with those blue steel panels used to wall off construction sites. The public toilet just outside the bus station was your typical, rural-style, rough-and-ready, brickwalled concrete panels over a rather short (and rapidly filling) drop. Not the most disgusting public toilet I’ve ever had to use, but not far off- one of those places your very careful where you step right from the moment you walk in the door. Nevertheless, the 919 Yanqing-Beijing route was functioning as efficiently as it usually does (and as efficiently as it wasn’t on September 30 when we headed out to Yanqing), and it wasn’t too long before we were on a bus back into Beijing.

We got on the bus and it ambled its way over the roughly-paved square and out onto the road, heading south down the road that skirts the eastern edge of the county town. Just before we reached the Gui River we were stopped at a red light and a building to our right caught my attention. I couldn’t see from that angle what kind of building it was, but its shape seemed oddly familiar- which should not be the case considering I’d never visited that corner of the county town before. But there was something about it…. Apart from its dark brown colour it could’ve been the church in the wedding scene in The Graduate, or either of the churches in the Wayne’s World 2 pisstake of the wedding scene in The Graduate. And so as the light turned green and we rumbled off, I made sure I could see as much of this building as possible, and sure enough, it was a church, a very new church, and one its sign made sure was an official protestant church.

I’d heard about this church a couple of years ago. lzh told me some kind of church had been built somewhere in the county town, but she didn’t know if it was protestant or catholic, and didn’t know where it had been built. But there it was, through some fortuitous change in bus route. And it was a pretty decent size, too, not like those piddly little churches you get in Beijing at Zhushikou or halfway between Xidan and Xisi, a tiny fraction of the size their actual congregation needs.

Heck, last time I was at that church between Xidan and Xisi (I can’t remember the actual name of the place) about 40% of the congregation was in the main church hall and another 40% in a side hall and 20% in the courtyard, the latter two groups following proceedings via CCTV. But that’s beside the point.

On the way into Yanqing on September 30 we passed by the old 中心市场/Central Market. A long time ago it was closed down then torn down. Then a gigantic hole was dug, then work was begun on some fancy new commercial centre. I have no idea what the new place is like, all I know is that when we zipped by, twice, it was open, finally. I have no idea what it’s like, having just zipped by the gates twice within the space of 15 minutes, but there it was, finaly open.

Every time I go out to Yanqing there’s a change, and despite the occasional temporary step backwards- a backwards step generally necessary to allow the subsequent step forward- the changes are for the most part positive. The only exception I can see is transport within the county, which stubbornly remains at the barely adequate level, but that’s ok, it’s only that trip from the village into the county town that’s occasionally difficult. Otherwise, what I’m seeing out there is positive, real improvements.

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