First Paragraph: Writing Samples

Leaving Hong Zui

Elaine Brown continues her story of working in China.

PR China Flag

After my farewell dinner with my Chinese colleagues, Amanda and I finished off the gin around midnight, toasting ourselves for a job well done. I wouldn't see her for a fortnight until we were both back in the UK. I headed to bed but I didn't sleep well due to the alcohol and knowing that I needed to make an early start. At four forty-five I got up, feeling extremely tired but glad to end the broken night's sleep. It was still dark and surprisingly cold. I dressed quickly and checked that I'd packed everything in the room before pulling my large heavy suitcase outside. I watched and listened for a car approaching.

A black Audi pulled up in front of me. I got in while the driver, with some effort, loaded my suitcase into the boot. Chong, a colleague, was already sitting inside. He briefly greeted me. He was on his way to the airport for a weekend away. I, to my relief, was leaving to meet my husband in Hong Kong before travelling home. I'd spent two months working in rural North Eastern China and I was longing for some Western comforts and the chance to talk to my husband without the lines cutting out during the call.

We set off and Chong, as is common with the Chinese, promptly fell asleep. The main road out of the village of Hong Zui was rough and potholed and we made slow progress. I sat there, trying to pick out things for the last time. Cars came towards us in complete darkness. The Chinese often found it wasteful to use any headlights but this made travelling in the dark particularly hazardous. It was too early for the propaganda loudspeakers to be broadcasting but not too early for the first few Tai Chi practitioners in the village square. We passed Brewery No 1 and, as we reached the town of Siping, we passed the newer Brewery No 2 which was where I'd been working.

Walking in the park

It was now starting to get light and I hoped this would help the driver to stay awake. Although Chong was happy to sleep, I spent the journey on tenterhooks, nervously glancing at the driver and worrying when he yawned.

It was an uncomfortable three hour journey before we reached Changchun airport. Chong shook himself awake and we exchanged good wishes before he vanished into the small rickety grey building. I made my way inside more slowly as my flight was later than Chong's. We'd travelled up together to save taking two cars only two hours apart. I considered changing my Beijing flight from Air China to the earlier China Northern Airlines one. However I doubted I'd manage that with my limited grasp of the Mandarin language. Also having flown up to Changchun on China Northern I decided to take my chances with Air China this time. At least Air China were not blacklisted by the Foreign Office.

I took out the thick paperback I'd brought to pass the time and sat in front of the departures clickerboard. I no longer really noticed the curious stares from the Chinese as they watched this strange Western woman looking out of place. The two hours passed reasonably quickly, absorbed in my book.

Finally I noticed a change in the Chinese lettering on the departures clickerboard. My flight had been called. I set off, through the chaotic boarding procedures and, eventually onto the plane. The flight was cramped but bearable. I hated having to avoid Chinese spitting and this flight was no different. However as most passengers politely used their sick bags to spit into I began to relax a little. It took almost two hours to fly to Beijing and another hour to be transported to my Western style hotel. The next stage of my journey, to Hong Kong, was to be tomorrow's adventure.