Guiren Gui crossed the Hangzhou Bay on a ferry boat full of commuters. It was a balmy day and the boat hit a wall of fog. Nothing could be seen around. This was a dangerous cross with plenty of cargo ships in collision course. Gui climbed the stern and sat down on the steps by the rail-end on the starboard side. Perhaps getting too attuned to the sea, he watched the crests of waves some metres below with an arm around the railing. Gloomy and dull in the sky.
He had no regret being transferred to a Foreign Aid Relief site in Yunnan earthquake-stricken zone, as an Italian speaking supervisor, a long way by train, since he mentioned to his seniors how he thought an ideology of one people could cause negative effect on a society. He borrowed foreign ideas in recent years as a diplomat. He wondered why he wanted to repeat it.
He was born in Gulin. A beautiful place with the fragrance of Sweet Osmanthus hanging over red roofs of the houses lined in rows. Cool streams, limestone caves and the scenery of looming rocks, good food and friendly people. He left hometown at his age of fourteen and had not been there since. He just turned thirty-eight and still single. At least, that gave freedom to marry in this world of one order.
He was pushed abruptly. He opened his eyes in shock staring at the greyish waters with flecks of foamy crests. An elbow around the rail saved him from falling overboard. That was close. He dozed off while seated on a dangerous step gap open to the sea. He glanced on the deck to see if anyone saw him. Someone did. There stood a girl below by the guardrail watching. She wore a white pair of pants, a hoary grey sweater with white specks on it. All he could do was wipe saliva from his mouth with a backhand.
After months at his job in Yunnan, he visited a patriotic society of Lisu culture outside Nujiang. The Dai colony here belonged to the second largest ethnic group and quite distinctive in their tradition, language and way of life entirely depending on water, agriculture and the bio reserves.
It was Lisu Spring festival. Gui watched the girls in highly embroidered costumes and innocent faces walk up beside the shallow pool of water in the fountain basin. In an organised and a gentle manner, they brought their dances first in the cool sublime atmosphere.
When it came to water-play, those girls entered the pool with knee-deep water in it. They began to throw water with plastic bowls they carried. Gui stepped in and spoilt a girl wetting her gown. Finally, when she looked up at him under the conical hat, he found her to be the most beautiful woman he ever saw. Not holy Chinese but it made no difference.
Gui married this girl called Phuong just like the Phoenix resembling the architecture. In a couple of years, she gave birth to two daughters named Lian and Lien. As for the Lisu and Dai dynasties involved, they could keep two kids in a family.
It was his eldest daughter, Lian, who opened a textile shop in Fujian at her age of twenty. She formed a partnership with a young Taiwanese and carried on their trade into Shanghai and Taipei throughout the nineties.
Guiren Gui had better luck. When Deng Xiaoping took over office after the death of Chairman Mao, things began to change gradually. Deng adopted a policy of far-reaching market-economy reforms. At that time Italy’s growth cast over UK and exports to China outnumbered France to hold second next to West Germany. Italy was a major stopover hub for politicians visiting West. Italy’s communist government initiated those SME programmes of small and medium enterprises that attracted Chinese at will.
Gui returned to Beijing with his family in 1982 and comfortably secured a job as first secretary to the commercial attaché at the Italian Embassy. He served till 1989. There were few times he claimed having seen the girl in the grisly costume eyeballing at him.
In 1990, Gui took a break and flew to Mogadishu on an Alitalia flight from Rome. Italy was gearing up for the FIFA World Cup. His intention was to take a peaceful vacation in the sun.
It was a July morning. He was driven to the hotel he booked through Vacanze. A very familiar site indeed – the lighthouse and the white fortress, the sparkling blue waters and sand in the dust. However, the very first flag of Somali freedom flying on top of the Governor’s Palace located on Corso Umberto had gone with the building. He could hardly realise he was stepping in the garden as he stepped down from the car at Hotel Uruba – a stylish new haven that replaced the old.
Music played softly at the lobby and soothing to listen. He was served welcome drink and cool towel by an orderly dressed in macawis and khamiis. He was escorted up the spiralling staircase to the second floor where his room faced the Lido beach with blue parasols and fishing boats on the swell. A ray of light fell on the carpeted floor through the arch window on the thick whitewashed wall. Furniture of oak wood and linen of shiny silk in deep red and muted gold.
Lunch served exclusive of seafood, beef dishes, salads, fresh fruits and the finest wines. Lobsters cooked alive. Rice cereal heavily blended with baharat spices that he preferred less. His choice wasn’t cooked food. Still it was excellent food and fresh.
After dinner that night, Gui settled in a deep seat with a dry Martini. A band played on the stage with lights set dim. Electric guitars and conga drums made noises. There were dancing girls on the stage in sparkly guntiino dresses. Westerners crowded the floor in couple dancing. As the night advanced, dancing girls appeared in tight-fit blouses and bare legs. One of the girls stand out in yellow skin; he could imagine an oriental daughter.
Safira among the stripteasers began to unbutton her red blouse to reveal tiny tits and bounty of buttocks in a red G-string. Her movements on high hips and good-looking haunches cracked him at once. Gui stepped up to dance right next to the girl. In seconds he was sweating down the collar, splitting and popping joints animatedly in a kind of fuddle.
Band played ‘One Drop’ of Bob Marley and no one heard a noise outside. Doors pounded open and a group of armed men rushed in shooting at the lights. Gui grabbed Safira by the biceps trying to take cover using her body as a shield. She tripped to the floor. There were screams and shouts as tourists ducked behind the tables and chairs. Another round of shots hit the bottle rack in a fully stocked bar. Some fired blanks and some used live bullets. Some customers got hit and some wounded.
There stood a door right next to the bandstand. Safira scampered out through the door along with others. Gui followed. He wasn’t in the mind of sanity even to flee with his life. Too drunk and panicking…he ran behind the shrieking girls when another door opened and a mugger showed up. They turned towards another door. He turned because the girls turned.
Finally, Gui landed on the kitchen floor behind a shelf. He could hardly hear a sound. He saw the dancing girls hiding behind another shelf. Safira barely attached to a string began to recite a prayer soberly. He knew the worse has happened. He fell unconscious.
While the muggers stormed the hotel, those girls escaped into the bright moonlight of a full moon. Safira saw the assailants climb their jeeps and flee before the police arrived. It took less than twenty minutes.
That was a feisty attack propelled by the rebels targeted on western tourists to scare the hell out of the city to fetter the government. Two died and many others got injured.
It was all quiet. Hotel guests walked out into the moonlight struck in horror. This hotel catered bouquets for a great number of tourists longing for the beaches in the sun. There were rows of white-clad dinner tables and chairs on the beach upturned in the rampage.