November 2, 2011
Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, the three stooges, Curly, Larry, and Moe, and even Laurel and Hardy were never this good!
It was an impromptu slapstick comedy act. Bicyclists peddling down the street knee deep in water with tons of floating garbage catching their spokes, seizing their wheels, and tumbling countless riders into the rushing water.
Too bad there weren’t judges around to hold up cards judging the dives...5.6, 6.0, 5.8, to make a real competition out of the pratfalls....and audiences to cheer the level of their approval. Instead there were only howls of laughter and derision at those unfortunate victims of the situation.
The speed of some of the bigger and heavier chunks of garbage rushing down the road collided with the bicycles crashing their riders into the flood.
In the face of colliding with the bigger debris, some nimble riders jumped off their bikes and took off as best they could into the drink to escape the bombardment.
You couldn’t plan such a comedy routine as rider after rider fell victim to the garbage strewn water.
Slapstick was never as good as this!
If I didn’t think I was in such a desperate predicament, I would have joined all of the other onlookers laughing their heads off at the ridiculous and bizarre buffoonery we were witnessing in the rapidly rising water.
With a few spare hours to kill, I had ventured out into a sunny China afternoon for a bike ride to a nearby rural neighbourhood when an unexpected rainstorm suddenly arose. Rapidly drenched, I quickly pulled my bike up under a canopy to avoid getting more soaked than I already was.
Without storm water control systems, the water rushed overland and was soon a torrential river roaring down the road that only a few minutes earlier had been a dusty broken road between the open-fronted shops lining the road.
The rain water flooded the street as I watched helplessly from higher ground wondering if I could get back to Kunming’s Yunnan Finance and Trade Institute in SW China to deliver my 7 o’clock lecture.
I shivered in my wet clothes as the river flooded higher and higher as I perched precariously atop the biggest boulder I could find. If I lost my footing or the water rose much higher, its strong current surely would have floated me downstream in the torrent, along with the many other comedic river rats and garbage.
Such a spectacle would probably have been the highlight of the show as most ordinary Chinese saw all white North American big noses like me as wealthy, coming as we did, from a place where all the streets were paved in gold. So being swept away in the current and garbage would be a just comeuppance for me.
While this flooding was a surprise and a fright to me as the water continued to rise, the native inhabitants of the place had obviously seen this before and saw humour where I saw danger, and they saw a cleansing of their neighbourhood where I saw pollution.
The eighteen inch water became a flushing system for all of the garbage and dirt of the community. To add to the mayhem, shopkeepers threw all of their garbage into the rushing water so that the flood become a sea of flotsam rushing downhill to Lord knows where. While the garbage was sure to end up as someone’s problem down the line, it was a welcome saviour for those on higher ground to get rid of litter that had probably been piling up since the last storm. Eco concerns were the last thing on anyone’s mind.
While this demonstration of a natural flushing system was probably a godsend to the upstream people, it brought considerable anguish to me with my concern with world pollution problems...such a contrast to this culture where garbage is simply strewn about.
This event, though, did provide reinforcement of lessons I have learned numerous times in my international work experience. And that is to not judge customs in foreign lands by my North American standards, which may be equally perplexing to them.
But my experience with this flash flood has given me greater appreciation of the power of nature and the catastrophe’s that can erupt so quickly catching all by surprise who are in its wake....and often with disastrous results.
And by the way, I never did get to that lecture.