The story so far: having given it all up to go and live with the Shaolin monks, James found himself the victim of a martial trick, and, having found solidarity in Robin, they slid away into the night, aware that the Chinese authorities would be looking for them as soon as the daybreak rooster introduced a new day…
The rickshaw that trundled through the night drew no attention to itself, the locals’ attention firmly fixed on chopping enough wood to keep the spirits alive. Snow had fallen early that year, and without the “Army of Gritters” who manifest their magic during Surrey’s sleep-time, progress through Jilin was laboured.
With Siping a memory, but the heart-beat ready to increase at a split-second’s notice to aid in evading capture, the young men took it in turns to grab a few moments shut-eye; they knew they couldn’t relax until Beijing, and the mysterious Mr. Lin who would be their salvation.
As the first sip of Bai Jiu snaked its way through James’ lips, relief from the pain was served: no more beatings, no more morning torture to endure. No more crap. He had come with a purpose, to change his mind, to learn the Nobel Art, the way of the Internal Warrior. But having been shipped to a camp on the North Korean border, way out of hearing distance of the screams, the secret prison which was his new home had revealed itself as slowly as an addiction. This was no training, no noble cause – this was extortion, materialism, people-trafficking, dressed up in orange robes to allure the many seeking the true Gong Fu. Part of the Tao, undoubtedly. Would he have taken everyone with him? In an ideal world, Yes – but it was up to each Grasshopper to find his own way out of the wok, he reckoned. And the fire burned bright in him.
The lights at Chang Chun airport tore the veil cast by the night – it was 2:30am now and within a few hours they’d be safe:
“San Bai Yuan” the toothless thief spat at them. This was no time to argue over ï¿½10, but at the same time to appear too compliant would also alert suspicions.
“Sheme! Bo She, lawai, Liang Bai, How?”
“How!” – the old man accepted the offered price, old pieces of paper, the fading of Mao’s dynasty were exchanged, and they huddled quickly into the terminal.
“Clothes change – fast!” Robin was on the ball, able to snap into action immediately from a seemingly unconscious state. The toilets had doors on them here, and a partition of more than 2 feet between them. Both, secretly, felt a little claustrophobic with their uncommon privacy, but would keep that to themselves. It was left unspoken. The code.
We might just pull this off, James thought. It was a good sign that they hadn’t been rounded up yet – the welcoming committee would have been extensive for British ‘spies’ on the loose. Tank movements had increased lately, and any unexplained ‘lawai’ in this part of the province would be questioned in no uncertain terms. But they had luck on their side, and slipped through check-in and security easily, their student visas and the rest of the bottle of Bai Jiu answering all questions the secret police could muster at this hour.
As Jilin province become a distant star and the plane arrived at cruising altitude, there was time to smile, exchange a joke, and imagine what lay in front of them – Mr. Lin had said nothing, his translator had added precious little more, but throughout the short flight, and the taxi journey through the bright lights of a city desperate to mimic those of the countries whose political systems it had tried so long to resist, James and Robin’s attention was inward. The Chi was strong in them and would manifest soon in the most magnificent ways.