I usually limit myself to one blog post per week, but last night’s adventures demanded to be exposed to all and sundry on the blog. I stole the title of this post from Caroline, who posted a hilarious story about toilet troubles in Guyuan, Ningxia province, where she is teaching at a middle school. The story begins last night. It was a dark and rainy night in Xining…
No, but really – it rained A LOT last night. It was raining all evening and the rain only got heavier and heavier. As Xining is located in the semi-desert ecosystem of the Tibetan Plateau, this much rain falling at once is, if not unheard of, then at least an infrequent occurrence.
Last night, Sarah, Devin and I met up with Ligaya (our TEFL teacher/friend), Steve (her boyfriend), and Emily, a former VIA volunteer who never left Xining and now teaches at Minzu Daxue, the Nationalities University. We had a delicious dinner with great food and beer and stimulating conversation. After we finished, we walked outside to discover that it was raining harder than ever. While Ligaya and Steve prudently went home, we decided to come to Emily’s apartment for a glass of wine or two. We hopped in the bus towards the east side of town where Emily lives.
As we approached Emily’s neighborhood, we noticed that the puddles in the street – Bayi Lu, one of Xining’s main streets – were getting larger and larger. Then the puddles covered the entire street; the bus plowed boat-like through the water, leaving a solid wake in its path. Then the water covered the sidewalks. The street was total chaos; taxis and cars were stalled everywhere, their engines flooded with water; brave pedestrians carefully negotiated the ocean which had descended upon the street. The bus seemed to float along, wheels barely touching the submerged ground. We passed by Emily’s bus stop, which was at least knee-deep in water, and got off the bus at the (comparatively dry) Minyuan Dong (east campus) stop farther along the street.
But to get to Emily’s apartment, we had to brave the heart of the biblical flood. So we turned back along Bayi Lu, rolled up our pants, and plunged in. Instantly, we realized that there was something special about the water. Chinese streets are pretty dirty; they’re covered in all sorts of trash, and parents let their kids/dogs pee (or even poop) just on the sidewalk. If any Chinese street floods, the water is going to be pretty nasty.
But this water was a step beyond. It reeked. Of sewage. We passed an overflowing drain, then a manhole top which was spouting water. The sewage system of Xining was overflowing, and we were walking through a flood of the city’s finest human (and other) waste.
The sewage water started out ankle deep and quickly progressed to knee-deep. We waded for several hundred meters along unseen sidewalks, walking slowly to avoid tripping and falling in the sewage if there were any cracks or irregularities in the pavement. We finally reached an open gateway where the sidewalk was wider, where taxi drivers hopelessly attempted to fix their vehicles’ flooded engines. As Devin held a conference call on his cell phone with his parents in the United States, I watched the chaos on Bayi Lu, and took a few pictures.
Emily continued ahead, walking slowly down the street. Suddenly, she faltered, then plunged forward into the gigantic sea of sewage. Her scream alerted us to what was going on.
“I FELL INTO A FUCKING MANHOLE!”
We came over to Emily and pulled her out. She was thoroughly soaked – even stewed – in the foul brew, and smelled like a broken sewage treatment plant. She pulled up her pantleg to reveal a large bruise already spreading on her thigh from the sharp manhole edge.
We walked to Emily’s apartment without further incident and took showers to wash off the stench (and hopefully the parasites). We opened a bottle of wine that I had bought near the hotpot restaurant, which turned out to be Grape Wall rather than Great Wall, and was by far the most watered-down, foul-tasting, and overall worst wine I’ve ever drunk. After one sip, I started laughing uncontrollably at the situation. Sewage flood. Friend down a manhole. Nasty wine. All in all, a great evening out in Xining, China.