Southern China every year takes a deep breath, tightens its rain coat and steps into the blast of the rainy season. And when it rains, it surely pours. This year did not disappoint, with our newly restored roof being given a thorough workout (and coming through with flying colours, I might add).
With work on site being reduced to odd bits of snagging – straightening toilet seats, oiling creaky doors and the like, everyone was excitedly looking forwards to welcoming our first guests. It would take more than the odd pitter patter of rain to get me out of bed in the morning. The ayi banging my door, saying ‘come quick!’ was quite another matter. Water had blocked up next to the restaurant from last night’s rain and was working its way over our newly laid limestone floor. Wellies on, bucket in hand and a bit of stiff upper lip saw us through, and said water blockage was released in the neighbours garden. The rain passed, and it was clearly time to sit down for a cup of tea.
Pottering around the village in the sunshine, I saw our experience was not unique. Water was gushing down the narrow pathways, clear & warm over my now beflip-flopped feet an inch deep. Most doors were open, with old ladies energetically hurling water out, frequently into my oncoming face. I hoped they hadn’t blamed the rains on my laissez-faire attitude to Feng Shui when restoring the house, and were now giving me a hard time for it. Most dramatically, an old wooden bridge crossing the river by our house was now absent. Unlikely to have been misplaced in the night, or cursed by my reckless placement of doorways on our property – I also couldn’t help but notice the water level on the river really was rather high.
Myself and a few of the villagers had gathered to compare notes at the riverbank with our morning breakfasts as the water kept on coming, despite the continuing lack of rain. A few people now started swearing: Chilli Pepper crops were ruined. Access to the fields was blocked. Minutes later, sofas, beds and household items washed past us in the now raging torrent. Someone upstream of us was clearly having a harder time of it than we. This seemed an excellent time to about turn and review the situation back at the house.
The village was now a few inches deep in brown river water, as opposed to the glistening clear rain water earlier. We would later find out that a dam had burst up stream, and the government decided to release another to ease the flood risk. I bumped into Da Hong, our chef, turning up for work at the same time as I got back on his scooter, which he’d gamely pushed the final hundred metres. At this point, we began playing a protracted game of chicken with mother nature. Rain had long before stopped, but water levels in the village kept rising, until they breached the Skywell’s threshold.
I’d like to thank everyone on site that day – our two wonderful ayis and their families and Da Hong for joining me in a game of ‘how high can we raise these heavy expensive things!?’ Fridges, ice machines, washing machines, freezers and chairs all went up stairs or onto counters. The stone plinths in the garden came into their own as a means to raise up the beds in each ground floor bedroom as the water began lapping in. The dog wondered around and looked confused, urgently wanting to sit down, but not keen on a wet bum.
Sensing there was not much else to be done, I joined Da Hong for a wet cup of tea on the patio. Splosh went something in the water next to us.
‘A fish – catch it!’ cried Selina.
‘Could be’, replied Da Hong, playing with his phone. ‘Or a snake’.
Tea was immediately cancelled as we headed upstairs to survey the devastation. I braved a trip out on my bike to survey the damage on the village. The water was a foot deep or more in some places, and children giggled as I went past whilst parents hushed them back inside. Teacher Jin gave me a stern warning about flood safety as I careened past. An unexpected pothole collided with my front wheel and gave me a new perspective, exploring my surroundings head first and underwater.
Back at the house, Da Hong nonchalantly waved at a newly exposed brick. ‘Water’s receding’. And it was. It left as quick as it had come, and in 30 minutes all that was left was alluvial sludge. Fortunately, Huizhou houses have serious in built drainage systems, built in stone running under the house to take water from the courtyard. They are effectively built to be hose-down. Our ground floor bedrooms only received an inch, was below electrics. The skirting boards had to come up, and there was seriously cleaning to do, but that was the extent of it.
We live to fight another day.