After a night’s sleep in Shaoguan, we still had 200 km to go to reach the babies.
We were anxious to get going. But first we had to make an early stop at the largest supermarket I’ve ever been in (imagine a three-story Walmart of food). We finalized our purchase with a couple of nice ladies who constituted the “bulk buying department” and sat at computer terminals comparing our wants to their inventory.
Miranda headed for the rear of the store to get the truck-loading started, while I headed back to the hotel to get something to eat, check emails, and pack. On the way, I saw a lady on the street, selling brightly-colored balloons. I called Miranda and asked her to translate, letting the woman know we wanted to buy all her balloons, and could she please follow us. I arrived back at the truck with the balloon lady in tow, who cut her price in half when she learned they were for orphans.
Piles of goods were being loaded into the truck, and It was soon clear that all this was going to take longer than we thought. I called someone we had spoken with about buying blankets, and she offered to bring the blankets to us, which would save us an hour of driving. I told her thank you, on behalf of the orphans.
These blankets are for orphans?
Yes, I told her, we’re taking them to the orphanage in Chenzhou.
She dropped her price 10 percent.
An hour later, we were making our last pick up—the coal. It turned out to be charcoal, a preferred fuel and better for us, weight wise, to get over the snowy mountain. It was past noon now but we were finally on our way.
We had barely gotten out of town, riding in the Jeep behind the truck, when I saw that the balloons had broken loose from their moorings inside the truck and were starting to escape. We honked, we yelled. Stop! Stop the truck!
Just in time, the truck driver heard us and stopped. He jumped out and came around to the back of the truck just before the balloons wafted out the back door, presumably to float away to who knows where. He grabbed hold of the bunch, scrambled over the load of coal, and tied them securely with a few firm truckers’ knots.
We were soon inching along at about 1 km an hour in four-wheel drive over sheets of snow and black ice, crashed cars strewn along the side of the road. Mr. Deng told me for the 22nd time that he had driven in winter in Tibet and “this is nothing.” Other than our snail’s pace, I agreed.
For the next four hours we alternated between a nice steady 40 km per hour and Beijing-like stop-and-go (with lots of stop), but never once lost our forward momentum. Coal, blankets, balloons and all, we were inching our way toward Chenzhou.