A Chinese Pickle – Without The Noodles (part l)
by Gordon G. Kinghorn
Mark Twain once said, "Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter." Retirement can be made easier if you have the right mindset:
Now being fully retired, and with my 64th birthday looming, I have come to understand where this great man was coming from when he uttered these immortal lines – so much so, they have now become my personal credo – life is for living - and there are no pockets in a shroud after all.
Thankfully, my psyche remains most sound, (Or maybe I should leave this evaluation to the subscribers of ROL, once they have completed reading this article) my physical health too, thanks largely to daily workouts at my gymnasium, remains equally steadfast - plus my bank manager regularly informs me that there exists no monetary boundaries, (within reason) not to enjoy my retirement years to the fullest.
Subsequently, I endeavour to take the welcome advice of this goodly fiscal custodian – courtesy of regular visitations to the gym and golf course, coupled with pleasurably palatable, yet inexpensive dining experiences - plus that of engaging in the abundant opportunities associated with international travel - each of these delightful interludes contributing exquisitely to my perceived longevity on Mother Earth.
With regard the latter of the listed activities – and in view of the fact that our National Health system here in the UK is failing on a daily basis – where spiralling costs are realised through expensive and ‘questionable’ treatment of the nation’s elderly – or so government constantly informs us, I sometimes query the true significance of older patients who ultimately expire in hospital wards present day – those at around my time of life. Ergo, are they considered a true loss to the community- or is more a case of freeing-up another much needed bed?
Well, I’m nowhere ready to succumb to such a disagreeable fate – and the only free bed in my ongoing survival, occurs when my wife and I don’t have people staying over for the weekend – a very nice arrangement it is too, if the truth were known.
With that in mind, as I gaze fondly at my golf scorecard following a good round, or peruse the menu of a favoured restaurant, I remain in little doubt that it is my well-thumbed passport that provides me with the most fulfilment in life – this is not simply a document that enables us all to cross borders and international datelines, it is also a means for me particularly, to disassociate myself with the so-called ‘real world’ - and the many pessimists contained within it – the same who are always on hand to remind we retirees, that time is marching on - and that pretty soon, we shall too, become just another antiquated statistic, in yet another stretched medical facility, quintessentially, within the UK.
With the sun on my back and with personal sartorial elegance representing little more than a pair of shorts and polo shirt on a daily basis, I’m at my best, I think younger, I feel younger and even look younger…or so my long-suffering other half regularly assures me…the mirror says otherwise however, despite one’s tanned appearance. All the same, I value her positive declarations – and nod enthusiastically at the mere suggestion of her well-meaning assertions.
Come early March this year, we booked another vacation and made our plans accordingly, owing to my wife’s profession, (Senior Nurse) and the leave restrictions associated with her employment responsibilities, we arranged our then forthcoming sojourn in a slightly different manner to that of previous years, in that I would travel ahead and enjoy a little time on my own – with a view to her joining me in Bangkok, some ten days later.
The main reason for taking off as a solitary passenger initially, was largely due to the fact that I had a long-standing yearning to see a bit of China... I must say however, I truly wish I had thought a wee bit harder about my ultimate destination, this particular sojourn was something of a mini-disaster, as the following lines shall relay all too well.
When I eventually lifted-off from Heathrow last month, my first destination was Guangzhou, known historically as Canton or, less commonly as Kwangchow, it is the capital and largest city of Guangdong province in the People’s Republic of China- and located on the Pearl River, about 120 km (75 mi) north-northwest of Hong Kong – it is too, the most God awful city it has ever been my misfortune to visit – what a dismal destination it indeed is, no doubt in this evaluation!!!
The international airport that supports this immense municipality has about as much architectural charm as Lubyanka Prison – a truly unwelcoming structure and one utterly devoid of a cheering welcoming mechanism for visitors.
I refer to the term ‘mechanism’ as the most suitable descriptive, largely as it appeared to me that each of the employees who laboured at this dreary, aeronautical receiving station, were little more than cold, unsmiling robots, each with seemingly no desire to demonstrate any specific human qualities, such as a smile, or a nod, or even the blink of an eye.
They all appeared as pre-programmed androids with apparently no awareness of anything other than the travail they were paid to execute on a daily basis – and thus, totally bereft of anything that resembled the characteristics of humanness as I know it – I figured that I had got off to a bad start, this place came across as the ‘pits!’
Once through customs, I headed for the exit in order to secure the services of a more amiable representative of the Chinese nation, ergo; a competent taxi driver, one that would transport me safely to my hotel, in the shortest possible time – and for the most agreeable tariff, sadly, my expectations were perched a little too high that day.
If the airport staff appeared inexplicably grim, my driver was something else again – I can only describe this specimen as one who sits marginally to the left of ‘Genghis Khan’ in the charisma department – he was ‘Odd Job’ with attitude, and that is about as complimentary as I can be about this particular mutant example of mankind.
As a former member of the British Armed Forces, my bad days were an occupational hazard, during my tenure as a serving soldier, I spent several bad days under intense artillery fire, I also had the misfortune of being briefly semi-buried under rubble - courtesy of a wayward, so-called friendly fire rocket, ruining a perfectly good suit too I may add, to say nothing of a most disagreeable altercation with number of dreadful Iranian border guards, some years ago.
Now, as much as the afore-mentioned incidents proved to be incredibly frightening, with each interlude coming very close to melting my then phoney sangfroid, it was almost small beer in relation to the threatening reaction of my Chinese taxi driver, this when I failed to settle with him appropriately…in his opinion of course.
The fare to my hotel came to around 55 Yuan, about £4.50 or $6.00. Firstly, this driver wished to be paid in US Dollars, twenty of them in all, with a further five dollars to meet his tip. He must have considered me as some ‘wet-behind-the-ears’ tourist, one with little or no experience in dealing with the excesses of greedy ferrymen.
I immediately responded to his attempted thievery by conveying two simple words, I shall refrain from conveying the precise terminology that I transmitted in his direction, needless to say, the letter ‘F’ figured prominently in my brief response to his woeful attempt at highway robbery, I then handed over sixty Yuan and attempted to climb out of his dilapidated vehicle – at which point, he went berserk!
By this time, I was out of the car, (thankfully) but he then alighted and came at me with a metal torch and started waving it hysterically, very close to my face. I patiently attempted to explain that should he choose to continue with his unfortunate and unnecessary conduct, I would take great delight in delivering a swift, hefty blow to the thorax region of his anatomy.
Something must have been lost in translation as ‘Odd Job’ failed to comprehend the full extent of my intentions, fortunately for him however, the doorman of my chosen hostelry had heard the clamour outside, and as one who could speak English proficiently, immediately rushed out to come between me and my assailant in an attempt to defuse the distressing status quo.
The doorman had to physically restrain the driver, this whilst gasping to me that he was going to call the police, advising me further, to enter the hotel and check-in, adding that my luggage would follow immediately, which it duly did.
As I left the scene, the taxi driver was extremely red in the face, salivating profusely and appeared to be a mere single breath away from a massive cardiac arrest, he was also crying - tears of anger and unparalleled frustration, nothing more, nothing less.
I did receive a full apology from the hotel management, with a free dinner thrown-in for good measure; however, I couldn’t comprehend why the owners of the establishment chose to take sole responsibility for the fracas – not that I objected of course.
Continue to Part 2 here!