Yinchuan: A city of two million, it has a distinctly laid back feeling to with wide open boulevards. It is also home to the Hui Muslims after the region separated from Gasnsu in the late 50’s. So after a decent night’s rest I’m having a good wander about taking in the distinct architecture and colours of the city in the late warm autumn sunshine. In the center near the drum tower, Chinese pavilions shaded by vines and hanging plants sit next to a river crisis crossed with bridges. There are plenty of Hui restaurants nearby and the distinctive smell of lamb finds its way under your nostrils wherever you go.
So I suddenly get a message from Mr Li the owner of the jeep jolting me out of my serenity.
“The GPS on the jeep has broken”
As per usual Mr Li is being a man of few words offering zero explanation. I guess he means the GPS tracking system built into the jeep in case of a breakdown in remote areas. I guess as I’m driving solo it s kind of important. After half an hour I receive another message.
“Don’t worry, you can fix it by yourself.”
Great! Nice one one. All afternoon I get very little information and the distinctive feeling of rising stress is grabbing me by the throat big time. Finally a few more helpful words appear on my phone.
“It’s ok. You can find a repair shop. The repair shop master can do it.”
Thanks for that! I mean where is the GPS system? What does it look like?
Finally I have no choice but to unleash my secret weapon I have in reserve; the wife! You don’t mess with my missus and there’s a distinct feeling of satisfaction as I pass on Mr Li’s number to her over the phone. Within five minutes I receive the information I need. The GPS is a card installed under the steering wheel and it should be removed and replaced by a new one from China Mobile. Also as luck would have it, her old school friend Yang Jiang Ning who comes to Yinchuan once every few months is in town and he can help. Arrangements and more arrangements, it’s a busy afternoon sorting it all out though finally we meet in the evening along with his girlfriend Shi Xue Hui. Jiang Ning is a forty year old police man and also a boxer in his spare time, has recently lost most of his front teeth and is visibly in pain. He can’t help me out though Xue Hui is a local, gets on her phone and asks some of her friends.
8.00am and they arrive; He Su Wu, a cool streetwise guy in grey sweater and jeans and his younger mate Li Xiang who likes Justine Bieber. Li Xiang is my first passenger and he guides me through town as we try and keep up with Su Wu as he tears across town. Actually it’s a big relief to be driving though with a slight sense of madness. The Land Cruiser isn’t really one of those vehicles that you would normally drive through a busy city centre after all.
Across the other side of town we get to the garage and I get Mr Li on the line to explain everything to the engineers. Within ten minutes they’ve taken the steering column apart and found the box containing the GPS system and the immortal words “you can do it yourself” spring to mind. Su Wu then drives us to China Mobile and an hour later we return with a new card.
After the work has been done Li Xiang tells me “No charge!” I’m gob-smacked. I mean how often does that happen when you take your motor to the garage. Before I leave I decide to get one week’s encrusted road kill off the windscreen and give the car a good clean. “No charge!” I’m told again and amazingly they take the jeep back inside and give it a good once over including checking the tyre pressure and trying hard to fix that damn annoying passenger side window.
I leave Yinchuan with mixed emotions. I feel blessed to have met so many kind and helpful people but also saddened that my time here has been so stressful rather than engage in the unique Hui way of life.