The International Steam Pages

Night Ride To Jinzhou

David Longman recalls an interesting journey from Fuxin in December 2003.

It all starts badly. The train that I have planned to catch – the one that I have double and treble-checked on the timetable – isn’t running. The ticket clerk tries to explain but it is pointless. I don’t and won’t understand.

My predicament has drawn the usual helpful crowd. All keen to help and all offering advice in a language that means nothing. It includes half a dozen taxi drivers keen to earn a fare. By signs and charades a deal is struck. The foreigner will be driven to Jinzhou for just 100 yuan - a distance of over 75 miles. It seems an unbelievably good price and includes returning to my hotel to collect my luggage. Handshakes and smiles all round and we are away. The bags are picked up and we head off into the night. My driver appears in no hurry. Thirty miles an hour seems to be his top speed except downhill when we reach a magnificent forty miles an hour. It is going to be a long journey!

Mobile phone calls are made and received. Rod Stewart sings from the depths of the tape deck. The taxi rattles and shudders. Reality is fading faster than the evening light and I am resigned to my fate. We proceed at a sedate pace. I take an orange from my bag, peel it and pass it to my driver. He takes it gratefully and rewards me with a big smile and a string of Chinese. I accept the smile and ignore the Chinese. I count the oranges and do some mental calculations. This is going to be a long night and supplies may need to be carefully rationed. The miles pass very slowly!

Suddenly and without warning we perform a rapid U-turn and head back the way we have come! My face is a mask of incomprehension! We appear to be chasing a car with flashing warning lights but make no headway. Despite a sudden and totally unexpected burst of speed from my driver it is to no avail. Headlights are desperately flashed but the other car draws away, over the horizon and into the night. We slow down again, perform another U-turn and proceed sedately towards Jinzhou once more! The phone rings. More incomprehensible conversation. I decide to risk another orange.

Just as suddenly and with equally little warning we now take a sharp right turn and head down a deserted country road. No lights, no other cars. My driver opens his wallet and shows me money. By rights I should be panic stricken and yet for some reason I feel no concern, no fear. For reasons I cannot justify to myself I trust these people and do not believe they will do me harm. We sit in the darkness and wait. To be robbed? Killed? Who knows? A car approaches and suddenly all is clear – and clearly illegal. Passengers are about to be exchanged. Each driver will only travel half way to his stated destination. My bags are passed from taxi to taxi. Three Chinese climb into my taxi and I am bundled into theirs. Everyone is a winner! I pay my driver his 100 yuan, he shakes my hand and climbs back into his taxi. Slowly it begins its sedate journey back to Fuxin.

My new driver is as reckless as his predecessor was cautious. We overtake and undertake without regard for consequences. The miles are now flying past. No time now for oranges but maybe for a few prayers! Cyclists scatter, pedestrians leap for safety and headlights are flashed at us. My driver is unconcerned by their distress.

Then almost unbelievably we are in Jinzhou. The railway station appears and my bags are unloaded. A cheerful ‘Goodbye’ and my driver and car are gone.

Night ride over I begin to search for my hotel.

Rob Dickinson