The drive through the countryside was eye opening. Although he had been to China on a past expedition, Andrew had been limited to the burgeoning cities of Shanghai and Beijing.
As if to meet the stereotype, smog interfered with clarity of the surrounding landscape. New plant growth flanked the motorways in an effort to counter the mass deforestation taking place elsewhere.
One thing that stood out, in addition to the destitution, was the people’s resourcefulness. Families clustered alongside the road plucking what one must assume are edible produce. Vehicles take to the road where the horn takes precedence. Tuk-tuks and makeshift motorbikes shift unwieldy loads from metal sheeting and girders to unbalanced stacks of cardboard.
His arrival at the academy was meet with no fanfare. This suited him to a tee. A polite and typical introduction from an American was the extent of it. The American had been here 8 months and plans to stay another 4. Going by the name Forde, he comes across as the affable scamp of the group. At 19, the smoking, drinking and blond-tipped youngster nonchalantly told of how, earlier in the day he had accidentally severed the toe of a local boy by losing grip of a beer keg.
The others in the group are less vocal, or more accurately, let the conversation be shared at the dinner table. ‘Chef’ as she is known, offered up a collection of vegetable-laden dishes this evening, which according to the other tenants is common fare. The outliers on the dinner table, perhaps included in an effort to meet Western expectations, included bowls of fries and salad comprising of tomato and sprouts dressed heavily in sugar.
The conversation at dinner was pleasant. Alistair, a twenties-something Englishman, began at the academy 3 months back having been made redundant. An engineer by trade, Alistair is far from shy often combining wit with dry humour typical of the British.
Martian is Polish. Or at least that’s what Andrew thought his name to be. He did not wish to ask him again as the Polish man, being the oldest of the group, possesses an aura of authority. Conversations with Martian are blunt but useful. He’ll willingly tell you what you want to know, albeit in the shortest way possible.