The rain had been relentless all week, but by Friday afternoon the sky had begun to clear, and by evening it looked like conditions would be okay for us to visit our friend Tom in Sham Chung the following day. Unfortunately, it rained again overnight, and the wet conditions meant that cycling there wasn’t a viable option. The alternative was to drive to Yung Shue Au and walk the last two miles along the coastal path (Rise and Fall).
Traffic was very heavy on the main north–south expressway, and the road was wet, so extra caution was required. About two miles south of Fanling, three lanes condense into two, and with it the speed limit drops from 100 to 80km/hr. This isn’t really relevant, because the traffic was moving at only 45–50km/hr, and I continued to maintain a gap ahead of me that was roughly twice that of the red (city) taxi behind me.
In these circumstances, I tend to look beyond the vehicle immediately in front in order to anticipate any sudden changes, so I failed to notice at first that the car in front was braking so sharply that it quickly came to a standstill. Thankfully, the gap I was maintaining still gave me time to react, although when I did eventually come to a halt I was less than three feet from the stationary car.
I barely had time to think “Phew! That was close” before we were slammed from behind by the taxi. I felt as if someone had just whacked me across the back of my head with a blackjack (thank goodness for headrests). When I got out of the car, my first impression was that at least six cars had hit the one in front, but in fact only the car immediately behind the taxi had failed to stop. The others had been able to brake in time.
The police were quickly on the scene, and we were instructed to follow a police motorcyclist, who led the three cars involved in the collision off the expressway at the next exit point to a small car park in the large town of Taipo. At this point, I was asked whether I wanted to go to hospital for a check-up—two ambulances were already on hand in the car park—an offer that I took up because although I couldn’t accurately describe how I felt, I didn’t feel ‘quite right’. I wasn’t dizzy, and I didn’t have a headache, but I simply couldn’t find the right words.
So it was that Paula and I were ferried to the nearest A&E department, where my condition could be assessed. Being in the back of the ambulance, I was unable to see precisely where we were going, but I did note, with dismay, that we seemed to be making a lot of turns at various junctions. How, I wondered, would we find our car again.
The medical staff at Nethersole Hospital decided that it would be prudent to keep me under observation for a few hours, which in practice meant that a nurse came to check my blood pressure and shine a light in my eyes every hour. This gave rise to an interesting observation. You might think that my surname is not difficult to pronounce, but I remember from my time at the local Outward Bound school that many local Chinese do have a problem.
In my home town in northern England, the local pronunciation of the third most common surname in the town omits the ‘g’ altogether, but many Chinese omit the ‘d’ while pronouncing the ‘g’ as a cross between a howk and a glottal stop. I have always been slightly puzzled by this, because I’ve never noticed that local Chinese have any difficulty with words like ‘badge’, ‘wedge’, ‘ridge’, ‘lodge’ and ‘fudge’.
Anyway, the nurses here avoided having to attempt a pronunciation of my name by adopting one of two strategies: either they would notice that I was the only gweilo in what I would describe as a holding area and beckon me to them using hand gestures, or they would ask me for my ID card number, which would have been registered when I arrived in A&E. Paula has told me that she experiences similar difficulties at work. Some ask how her name should be pronounced, while others address her as ‘Dr Yung’ (her maiden name). She tries to pre-empt all of this by saying “call me Paula” when meeting someone new.
Things started to look up immediately I was discharged, several hours later.
“I’ll buy you dinner if you can find our way back to the car without asking anyone for directions,” said Paula.
Dinner or no dinner, this is the kind of challenge I relish, as Paula well knows. It was easy to get started, because we were in an extensive hospital complex with only one way in and out. The first decision came when we reached a T-junction. By this time, the sun was out, so it was easy to determine north and south, and I could see that we were close to the northern edge of Taipo. We therefore turned south. We were in luck. At the next junction, a crossroads, there was a blue sign with an arrow indicating that anyone wishing to go to Fanling should turn right. It was then simply a matter of following this road for a mile or so until we came to a right turn that I recognized as the point where we’d turned left when we came off the expressway. The easiest dinner I’ve ever earned.
So we headed back home, at which point our first priority was an afternoon nap. I mention this only because I had an incredibly weird dream. Paula and I were cycling around the New Territories, but this wasn’t the real New Territories. At one point, we encountered a group of Tudor houses, and at another we passed a section that reminded me of my home town. One road into town approaches the railway at right angles, passing a terrace that was built in the 1850s. However, the terrace in my dream was unmistakeably Georgian in both style and grandeur. When it reaches the railway, the road turns left, continues for about 50 yards then turns right over a bridge across the railway, which gives this part of town its local name: ‘over the bridge’. However, in my dream, there was an imposing church next to the bridge, which doesn’t exist in reality. There were many other strange events in my dream, but this brief account gives some idea of just how bizarre it was.
We spent the evening sitting on our balcony talking about education over a few bottles of Tsingtao (a Chinese beer), and I decided that over the next few weeks I would discuss here some of Paula’s ideas on the subject. None of her theories are particularly radical, but she does know what she is talking about, being one of the few people working in higher education to have a formal teaching qualification. She has taught in primary and secondary schools, vocational training centres, and universities, and she understands the teaching/learning process far better than the kind of arrogant politician whose opinions on education are driven more by ideology than by what works.