By Vincent Okungu (EV 2010/2012)
The last day of the EV2012 and Health Systems Research Symposium started normally although with a little excitement as it was the day many of us were returning home after almost three weeks in Beijing. So after breakfast with the ‘usual’ coffee, a few of us (four to be exact and there might have been more) passed through the Silk Market for last minute purchases before heading to the Symposium at the Beijing International Conference Centre (BICC). The weather was heavy with clouds and slight drizzles. At the BICC, we quickly got into the rhythm of the symposium, attending this and that session and looking forward to the closing ceremony…we could not miss that, could we? Then we lost each other.
Just about 4.00pm and it was getting quite dark; the rains increased tempo and the winds followed suit. I was getting very cold. I checked the temperature readings at the BICC lobby, they were dropping rapidly: 8oC, then 7oC. I had to get back to Master Inn Hotel immediately to ensure that transport to the airport was reconfirmed…one never knows with such things! The rain was fierce but the cold wind out-did it. I once got stuck in a snow-storm and wasn’t going to wait any longer. I had to leave immediately. There was already a long line of participants leaving the conference and a few meters away there was a war going on: the war of getting a taxi! It was typical of a man-eat-man society completely devoid of benevolent sexism as the mantra “ladies first” was thrown out into the cold wind.
As I headed out of the BICC, I bumped onto Sedjro Eclou. We teamed up to lower taxi costs, which were going for ¥100. We couldn’t find any taxi and we were getting very wet. The umbrella-like structure by the road-side was over-flowing with people trying to catch a taxi. Out of desperation, Eclou suggested that we move down the road and flag down a taxi before it entered the ‘war-zone’. We raced down the road, jackets over our heads. Wrong move! There was nowhere for taxis to stop so we decided to go all the way to the bus stage and catch either a taxi or a 386. No taxi was stopping and no 386 in sight. The rain, the cold were UNBEARABLE! Eclou suggested that we jump into any bus because they were all likely to pass near the Campus. No way! He offered to get into the next bus and enquire if they would pass near the campus. Eclou, obviously like many of us, couldn’t speak Chinese and was not English proficient. Before he could speak a word to any of the passengers the bus was off…destination unknown! I remained at the bus stop trying my luck at every taxi that passed. A few minutes after Eclou left for destination unknown, a taxi stopped and I quickly summoned a Chinese gentleman I had been chatting with for translation. The driver didn’t know Master Inn but he knew the campus. Immediately I sat in the warm taxi, a 386 bus pulled along. If I had waited for a minute I could have saved costs.
The taxi pulled near the 3rd Hospital: ¥19…that’s the good thing with metered taxis- they rarely over-charge. Out of the taxi into torrents of rainfall and through a gate, I hoped to see the red signs of Master Inn. There weren’t. I walked and asked a student for direction and he pointed towards a dark street full of water run-off. I walked a few meters and realized I was right behind the campus stadium and then the inviting red lights of the cafeteria. I felt hungry and headed to the cafeteria, wet as I was. I had a meal-card from a colleague worth ¥37 and quickly thought of shrimps, meatballs and stuff, spinach and corn. The rest was for beer at the 7/11 outlet. What a great meal it was!
As I headed for Master Inn, my mind was on Eclou: Where could he be? What if he didn’t have enough money? Wet yet quite warm in the belly, I badly needed a change of clothes and shoes but still Eclou was constantly in my mind. I strolled into Master Inn and Eclou was right there at the hotel lobby, seated warmly between two female colleagues. He had been dropped off a few kilometers away and had to find his way to the Master Inn Hotel. Relieved, I dashed to the toilet for a change of clothes and after reconfirming the van to the airport, I sat down with a bottle of beer until it was our turn at 10.00pm to get to the airport. The weather was severe with slight snow-fall but I was warm and heading home.