It was raining as we approached the ancient and historic city of Xi’an after two hundred days on the road.
It had been raining heavily for most of the day and the factors of good roads, bad drivers and water had combined with deadly consequences meaning we had seen more car accidents in this single day than in the rest of the trip combined.
Sign at a urinal
This didn’t seem to dampen Leigh’s determination to get to the city, home of the famous Terracotta Army, as quickly as possible and for the second time of the day we asked him to reduce his speed a little. His nonchalant reply wasn’t the most comforting, “If we hit something today we’re dead anyway, the speed doesn’t matter”.
[Paul: Sod Pakistan, Iraq and Iran, this was the most scared I’d been the whole trip!]
Despite the odds against us we made it safely into the city and found ourselves a nice youth hostel. It was still raining.
The main draw of Xi’an is the Terracotta Army but on the way to the city one of our front suspension-spring brackets had snapped off so our highest priority was getting the car back up to scratch. So before we set out to find the rows and rows of pottery soldiers, archers and horsemen, Leigh and I set out to find some flesh-and-blood mechanics.
After some driving around with Frank we saw a place that looked promising, parked the car outside and took in the shattered plate and bent shock absorber. Frank spoke to the teenage mechanics at length explaining our problem whilst occasionally referring back to the broken parts Leigh and I stood holding.
Swarm of bees!
After talking for fifteen minutes Frank turned to us, “They say it is not possible to fix this”
Leigh and I were pretty stunned. “What do you mean? Of course it is, the shock absorber just needs hammering straight”
“No, this is not possible”
“Yes it is, we just need a big hammer,” we said, looking around until we saw a hammer, “look can we just use this? Do you have a vice?”
Frank spoke to them for another few minutes, “No. There are no vices here. This whole street is tyre change only”
“But… this is a mechanics, there must be a vice!”
“No, they do not have such a thing”
Leigh and I told them we would be back shortly and walked out onto the street, into the rain, and along the line of mechanic’s workshops. After about five metres we saw a huge vice on the threshold of workshop and asked the mechanics if we could use it briefly. Five minutes of hammering later we had straightened the unfixable shock absorber and returned to the original workshop resisting the urge to ask Frank to translate, “There! See: don’t be so defeatist, you can fix anything with the right tools and materials!”
“They took my frickin’ kidney!”
Now we just needed to get the bracket which held the shock absorber in place made up. To cut a long story all that was required was to cut a triangular plate of metal, bend it in two places and then drill four holes in it. But to even explain this took literally hours, to actually make it happen took many more. To make things worse Leigh repeatedly tried to explain that they should drill the holes last as their position would change when the metal was bent. Frank eventually told Leigh to leave them to it as they were professionals. Needless to say, the pros drilled the holes before bending the plate and to their surprise the holes didn’t line up when they were finished.