Day 36 - Sunday 7th May - Tai'an to Beijing

It was to be an 0800 start for our 510k ride into Beijing. The first shock we got was when we jumped into the lift to go down to breakfast and being confronted by 5 boys all around 185 - 190cm tall dressed in white track suits with red highlights. Had the Chinese basketball team moved in over night?

We turned into the dining room to discover that there was a whole school of kids there. Not a spare seat or table (and the place was vast), queues at every food serving point, all dressed in the same white track suits with red high lights. Peter from our group had managed to secure one table and was having to defend it vigorously from the invaders. Some in our group came and turned in retreat.

The kids were all polite. They queued in an orderly fashion (unlike their parents on the freeways), and those that forced their way through Peter’s barricade to our table spoke good English. They were from a school in Beijing and had arrived overnight to climb Taishan. By 0730, the dining room was empty, except for those on our table who were still recovering from the melee.

The dryness of Qufu and Tai’an gave way to the continual belt of wheat and trees as we descended the mountains onto the coastal plain again. The sky also seemed to clear, with patches of blue and a watery sun peaking through the muted haze.

At 0930 a call came over the radios that one of the drivers was in lots of pain and that the Navigator was going to take over. After a bit of back and forward, our morning stop and refuel was rescheduled for a truck stop 20k down the road. Phone calls back to Australia to paramedics were scheduled and after much consultation the prognosis was probably kidney stones.

The decision was made to continue to Beijing as that’s where the best hope of medical treatment lay. Out came all the pain killers and numerous bottles of water for the infirmed. Drivers were reshuffled around the cars and we set off again.

The drive was smooth until about 70k from Beijing where we hit a police road check. The 3 lanes quickly morphed in to 4 as cars decided that the emergency lane was moving faster. By this stage the temperature was around 30c and the cars did not like sitting, idling in stop/ start traffic, as it was more stop than start. The only option was to turn the motor off, wait, restart and move forward before someone from the adjoining lane decided that your lane was a better option and barge across. For an hour and a half we edged our way forward. The first car with our guide Green, stopped, showed documents and was quickly off again. The next 4 cars just waved to the police and drove through, ignoring the hand gestures and shouts. The police then decided to stand in the middle of the road to stop the last 3 cars who thought that running over a policeman was probably not worth the effort. Drivers licence, rego and passports were produced. The police wandered off with all. Green was summoned on the radio and then spoke to the police who really just wanted to check that we had a valid hotel booking and reason for being in Beijing.

We were told that this was all pretty much standard procedure and that the locals were used to this level of security around Beijing.

Sunday afternoon and the run into Beijing was relatively speaking smooth. Traffic was heavy, but constantly moving and our sticky rice manouvers meant that no one got lost.

While the we checked in to the hotel at around 1730, the ailing one made a B line for the emergency section of the large hospital just down the road . The diagnosis was confirmed as kidney stones. To cut a long story short, by 1030, the infirmed one was back at the hotel after having had an ultrasound scan to confirm the diagnosis and work out the treatment plan, transfer to another private hospital, see the Urologist and have the kidney stones blasted. Normally in Australia I understand that this procedure would have been done under general anesthetic, not so here. Needless to say there was a considerable amount of pain. But the patient is still alive and hopefully on the way to recovery. We were all amazed at how quickly things could be achieved here, and for a cost of under AUD1,000 for all the scans and treatment.