Well, been in LA for a month now, and it’s been very different from both China and Canada. I think it might just have to do with living in the inner city versus the suburbs, which I’ve gotten used to in Canada. And well…there’s not really the same concept of suburbs in China, so I can’t compare. But chiefly I’ve just noticed a lot of people who are overweight, homeless, maimed, or mentally imbalanced with ostensibly no one to help or look after them. Just outside the university, in a shopping centre, there was a teenage boy running around and screaming for an hour while his mother followed him with a shopping cart. It made me really depressed for the few weeks I was here…I guess in a country with no public health insurance…
Anyway, I ran into another crime incident this past Thursday (why do these things tend to happen to me? Actually, a friend of mine also attracts a string of incidents, but in her case it’s usually being hit on by men who are 20+ years older than she is, which I’d say is more preferable to getting into crime incidents repeatedly. Just a summary of past crime incidents: got mugged in 3rd year undergrad and was subpoenaed for court; got arrested in China for being accused of stealing someone’s MP3 player; got caught in a fight in China between a store clerk and a customer wielding a giant wrench).
This time, though, I guess I deliberately got myself into the situation. To start, I was on my way back from a directed reading class that wasn’t held on campus, because the professor teaching it is technically on leave this term. I had a bus pass for the day and was undecided on whether I want to head to Chinatown or Koreantown for some Asian food or go straight home. A bus would take me back to school where I’d left my bike, and a subway at the same intersection would take me to Chinatown or Koreantown. When I was crossing the intersection, I noticed a person crossing the street ahead of me that made me slightly confused. As a woman who spent most my high school days being suspected of being a transvestite, I tend to notice people who don’t fit into stereotypical gender roles. The person ahead of me looked to be a homeless young blond man, rather delicate in build and quite pretty despite being slightly deranged, and he was wearing women’s sandals. I just shrugged it off at the time as beggars can’t be choosers.
I went into the subway first because I didn’t realize how late it was, and when I got down to the platform I realized it was already 6:50pm. The train I meant to take had just left, so after pacing along the platform listlessly, I went upstairs. The blond man had come downstairs and was ranting to people beside the ticket machines. I decided that there was nothing I could do, so I took the escalator up. I looked behind me to see that he seemed to be reaching out / pushing another man who was trying to buy a ticket. This other young man was African America, rather tall and thin, and looked like he might be a student – he had a backpack and headphones. I’m not sure what happened between them, but it looked like the man who was being harassed backed off and started moving towards the turnstiles. Then the escalator took me up past an overhang and I lost sight.
The bus I could have boarded apparently also just left, so I stood there for about five minutes before a police car pulled up and two police offers descended into the subway station. I had been trying to read a book but then I got worried that the police would treat the deranged young man badly, so I went downstairs to see what was going on (so yeah, I got myself into it).
When I got downstairs, it became pretty apparent that I was worried about the wrong person. the police approached the man who was being harassed, took off his bag and earphones, handcuffed him, and made him sit in a corner. I asked what was going on as this was taking place, and the man indicated the blond man, who was sitting in the opposite corner. I asked him, wasn’t he bothering you? and he said yes, you saw that, didn’t you? he was getting himself hurt. Me: so what are they [the police] doing to you? Him: I have no idea!
I asked a police officer what was going on, and he said, that’s what we’re trying to figure out. After another question, the police said something about the man being harassed, and then pointed to the blond man and said “and that’s his girlfriend over there.” This made no sense to me and I stood in confusion for a while before deciding it was beyond me and turned to leave, but then the officer told me to stay. So I asked him to clarify whether the blond person was male or female. The answer I got was “He’s a male trying to be a female.”
The reason I went downstairs was because my classes and research in American Studies is supposed to be about justice for minorities in the US, and also since I’ve taken Psychology and worked with someone with brain damage, I went downstairs knowing I would be a witness. By this time I was confused, not just about the situation, but what my purpose was. My purpose was supposed to be “truth” or “justice” or something along those lines, but now I was faced with two sides who could both easily claim that they were disadvantaged and in need of a “truth” that would help them. Obviously, it didn’t look good that a bunch of White officers was handcuffing an African American in a subway station, and what I saw at least seemed like he wasn’t at fault. But I didn’t see what happened later – by supporting the African American with my “truth” I could easily be sending the blond man into defunct psychiatric drugs or imprisonment without suitable interventions, and perhaps his mental instability came from a rigid gender system that will get even more screwed over. Who knows what might happen.
More officers eventually arrived and talked to the blond man, and I think I also asked the officer who called the police. The officer said that the blond man called the police and said that the other man had been stalking him all day. This made no sense whatsoever and the officer noticed my confusion. I told him that I saw the blond man pushing the other man. The officer I was talking to called another officer over and repeated what I had said, seeming to be slightly amused and implying there was a discrepancy in the stories floating around. They got to taking down my statement after a few more minutes talking with the blond man, and after this I was free to leave. The last comment I remember from them is that the blond man “is trying to win a drama queen of the year award.”
I think I understood what was going on; the blond man wasn’t mentally stable, and if the other man returned his harassment with like harassment (or even if he didn’t), the blond man probably called the police with a delusion that he believed himself. However I was still confused, and while waiting for the bus I started banging my head on the pole with the bus stop sign (I guess it’s a mark of the diversity of LA residents that no one intervened while I was banging my head on the pole…)I tried to calm myself down by saying to myself, I just told them what I saw; I had no evil intentions, and I was genuinely trying to help. But sometimes the worst things are done with the best intentions, and while I don’t think my intervention in this incident will stop the earth from spinning, I’m slightly worried about my tendency to want to do the right thing and what that will get me into.
Maybe it’s a good thing. Classes have been in progress for a few weeks now, and the chief obstacle for me has been the self-examination and self-reflexive nature of the scholarship we’ve been engaging in. In other words, I can handle “let’s study Asian American literature” but not “let’s study how we study Asian American literature.” Maybe this incident was a sort of wake-up call in saying that I can’t escape self-reflection because it’s not professional but personal as well.
I just got my Chinese work visa two days ago. It was one hell of a ride getting it – I had to apply twice and had to go back to Canada for it, and in between I had to travel to HK and was afraid for 2 weeks that I’d get deported / get an international criminal record.
After finishing my MA last September, I decided that I would like to go back to China for a while, and since my Chinese isn’t really up to par for most jobs, I could only teach English. I don’t necessarily agree that everyone in the world should speak English, and sometimes this makes me feel slightly conflicted, but I try to reassure myself that it’s cultural exchange and at least I know more about Chinese culture than the average English teacher going there (I hope).
It’s usually pretty easy for Westerners to get a foreign English teaching job, but it’s a lot harder for non-Whites. During my MA, when I was looking for work, I got many emails saying that I couldn’t be hired. Even after my TESOL course it was the same thing. In the end, a local TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) college took me on for a half year contract (I suspect due to work connections my mother has), and then a sister school of one school who rejected my application decided to take me for the next academic year.
I had gone to China on a tourist visa, being told that I can do a port re-entry after getting work and applying for a work visa. I was accompanying my mother, who relocated back to China to work, so I got a resident permit as an accompanying family member for the city we were living in (Nanning). This required a repeat of the physical examination checks I did a couple of months before, since the Chinese authorities doesn’t trust foreign medical reports and apparently even different cities would not recognize medical records from other cities. Since the college I was working for put me on a 6-month contract, they told me that I could choose to apply for a slightly less complex version of a work permit that doesn’t require a work visa and a re-entry. So, I went with this, after getting all the documents together. By the time everything got submitted it was the middle of the term, and then I never heard back from the college office who was doing this for me.
Then I found a job for the next academic year. This was a bigger university with a more organized system for hiring foreign teachers, so after submitting my documents I got letters in the mail with which I could apply for a work visa. I had to apply for a work visa even though my residence permit hadn’t expired, because I would be in another city and the permit only covers me for the city I was in at the time. Since I was already in China and a plane ticket back to Canada would cost me a month’s salary or more, I decided to go to Hong Kong (Even though Hong Kong is a part of China, it’s an SAR – Special Administrative Region – and its currency, political system, etc are not under PRC direction. That means there is also a consulate of China in Hong Kong).
Before I left, I noticed that one of the letters was addressed to the Chinese Consulate in Canada, and also noticed that there was a number required on the Supplementary Application Form. I emailed the staff members at the University about this a couple of days before I was planning on going to HK, and because he was on holiday already, I didn’t receive a reply. On the day of my departure I was desperate and sent him a text message, but since I thought that the number was more important than the addressee, I only asked about the number. I was told that the number wasn’t important, so off to HK I went.
Nanning, the city I was living in, is sort of a backwater place, and there were no trains from it to Hong Kong. I had to take an overnight train to Guangzhou and then change to either another train or a bus, and I opted for the bus because it was slightly cheaper. When I got to Guangzhou, I realized that the women who sold me the ticket in Nanning told me the wrong destination terminal in Guangzhou, so I had to take the public transit for a lot longer to get to the hotel where the HK bus left from. This worried me because I didn’t look up how to take the transit from the station I was actually in, and I needed to get to the Consulate in HK by the afternoon, and I was told that some residents of Guangzhou would tell you wrong directions on purpose. Luckily it wasn’t too complicated and I boarded the long-distance bus.
The bus had to stop at the customs between China and HK, and the lineup was huge. After that, we changed to another bus waiting on the other side of the border operated by the same company. This bus took us to the Mong Kok area in Kowloon, which was easy for me to take the subway onto Hong Kong Island, where the consulate was. The lineup outside the consulate was also huge – it nearly went around the block. We had to go through an airport-grade security inspection and leave all food and drinks outside. Thankfully, there were something like 10 service windows in the actual visa office, so things went quite well. I fudged a local Hong Kong address because I hadn’t yet booked a hotel.
Everything seemed okay until I got to the service window – but there I was told that since the letter was addressed to Canada, I had to go back to Canada. I did not foresee this because the actual location of my application doesn’t actually matter, and there was another document that instructed me to apply at my nearest consulate. But no, there was no leeway on that rule. I was extremely upset by this because I had a part-time job pushed back specifically for this trip and Hong Kong wasn’t somewhere I really wanted to go for pleasure, and on top of that I was tired from an 18-hour trip.
I tried one last shot at applying in Hong Kong by changing the addressee on the letter to HK instead of Canada, but then I asked the staff member at the office and they said it had to be an original. So I miserably left the visa office and went back to Kowloon to find a place to live – I didn’t have time to take a bus back to Guangzhou to catch the only remaining train back to Nanning. I ended up going to Chunking Mansions, which was a slightly seedy apartment complex/mall area, but I got a small private room for $90 HKD, which was decent. There was a cockroach on the ground, but I could deal with that. However, the University I would be going to work at is located in Chongqing (cantonese = Chungking), so I felt like the city was rubbing in the fact that I couldn’t get a visa for that. I would read “Chongqing” on packages and on ads for the next month and feel depressed every time.
Anyway, so the next day, after visiting the site of Kowloon Walled City, I went back to Nanning. I decided to try buying a seat ticket (I went to HK on a berth ticket with a bunk), which was a really bad idea because in the seat wagons the light is on the whole night, and I couldn’t sleep for most of the ride. After I got back, I asked the University to send me another letter addressed to HK, and they said it could be done but I needed to send the letter I had first. Apparently it was a government document and it had to return to government possession. I had no idea about this and had to fish it out of the recycling pile.
A few days later I got a call from the University asking me why I tried to change the addressee to Hong Kong, and that the Foreign Affairs Office (FAO), who issued me this letter, was extremely angry at me for doing so, and that I had to send everything back to them for them to re=process my application. The staff member who I had been in contact with told me that changing government documents like this was like forgery. I started getting worried about this because 1) it was already almost and I was running out of time to make another visa application trip, and 2) I didn’t know how serious my offence against the FAO and whether it would count as a criminal act. After being on tenterhooks for two weeks, I got another call saying that the FAO finished reprocessing everything but that I would have to go back to Canada, because other foreign teachers who went to HK had their applications rejected.
I began getting paranoid on something else – I had been reading forum postings on the Internet about China tightening up on its immigration laws, and began to be afraid that I hadn’t been working legally in China and that this might affect my next application. Since I have never seen this document that the college applied for, I did not know what it allowed me to do and what was outside its scope. At the best, it didn’t matter; medium-worst, the Consulate wouldn’t approve of my next visa application; worst, the Consulate would decide that I’d dome something really bad that it never lets me return to China again. So I called the college and they said that the province issued me a working document but they never picked it up – this is probably my fault, because after I told them that I would get another job, I said I probably won’t need the documents they applied for. But after another day they sent someone to the government to get it, and it looked like, provincially at least, I was working legally. The University and the Canadian side responsible for some of its operations assured me that I wasn’t doing anything illegal.
So I madly tried to find a short notice ticket back to Vancouver, and thankfully the university would cover my cost for this, at least sort of – it’s in my contract that they will pay for one return ticket between Canada and China, but this means that my return to Canada after the job is over wouldn’t be covered anymore. I left for Vancouver last weekend and got there on Saturday. On Monday I went to the Consulate to hand in my application, and was told that I had two problems with my documents. One was that one letter issued by the FAO looked like a fax. This was sort of stupid, as there seemed to be no way I could prove that it wasn’t a fax. After arguing with the girl for a while she shrugged and said that I could submit it but there was no guarantee that I would get my visa on time. The second was that the repeat physical exam I did upon my arrival in China was from December of last year and so it was no longer valid, and I had to get another one.
This second point was troubling because I planned to stay in Vancouver for a week. The girl at the Consulate told me that I should go to a hospital and do the exam in one day, which is how the Chinese system would work, but with the Canadian health care system, it’s pretty hard to get a physical exam done in 3 days. I was really starting to think that I couldn’t pull through this, especially because I moved back to Vancouver from Ontario a year ago, and didn’t apply for a BC health card because the Ontario one covered me for the length of time I would stay in BC until I left for China. I went to the Vancouver General Hospital for help and they directed me to ask the BC health care, who asked me to ask Ontario, who didn’t pick up. VGH gave me a few clinics close by and I went to try my luck there.
The clinic called Ontario first, and apparently Ontario has a rule that its residents can be covered for 12 months, so I was almost out of that time range but not yet. The doctor who saw me, luckily, had the same issue with another teacher who needed a physical done for a Chinese visa application, and even knew where to download the form that the Consulate requires. Also, she put “not applicable” on many of the sections on the form that would require me to be sent to a lab, such as an ECG. After that, off I went the next day to apply for the visa again.
At least this time the girl (another girl) didn’t tell me she thought that the letter was a fax, and accepted the application. I left feeling a lot more hopeful, though I was still paranoid that someone else who processed the application would think that the letter was a fax or frown on the list of “not applicables” on the medical form. While waiting to pick up the visa the morning after, I was so stressed that I had to jog on the spot in the lineup to avoid going crazy. But my turn came and I managed to get the visa, and I noticed that they cancelled my resident permit.
But that’s over, finally. I celebrated by posting everything I’d translated for Baccano! volume 8/9, which I’d been working on on my trip to HK and on the flight to Vancouver. From now on, I have to fly back to Nanning via 2 transfers, and then try to find a train ticket to Chongqing in 3 days amidst the back-to-school rush and start working a week after that, all on a wonderful 15 hour time zone difference….
I posted the remaining chapters of Baccano! volume 8/9 (depending on how you number them) onto Baka-tsuki yesterday. I started translating this in the spring of last year because 1) I needed to do a translation exam to get my MA and 2) I’ve leeched off other people’s work in the anime and manga fan community for way too long, and felt that I needed to make some contributions.
I probably feel more accomplished than I have a right to. The disclaimer on Baka-tsuki tells translators that their translations will be “mercilessly edited” but that hasn’t happened so far – the editor and fellow fans have been remarkably nice when suggesting changes. This was a fun project and standards/expectations aren’t very high (I don’t mean that in a derogatory way). Most people are just happy that there are translations out there, so I haven’t really been picked on, which I’m thankful for. I can’t even say that I’m the best person for the job. I’ve been working from a Chinese translation, and on top of that my English is more academic and I’m not well-versed in how 1930s gangsters would talk. Also, there was another translator who might have picked up on the same volume and probably would have done a better job of it, but I went ahead with it anyway, and sometimes I feel slightly selfish for doing that.
I aspired to be a writer, and had some short work published in high school era contests, but eventually realized that my forte didn’t lie in creative work as much as analytical work. Translation gives me the best of both. I’m spared the work of having to come up with things on my own, but in a way I am also rewriting the story in its translation. I’ve learned a lot in the process, and not just about language; for example, I now randomly know about the beginnings of the FBI and locations of historic hotels in Chicago. I’m not American and I haven’t visited the US that many times and I’m also pop culture deprived, so paradoxically translating from a Chinese edition of a Japanese light novel acculturated me into American history (I will probably post an essay about this in Radical Compounds at some point. There’s also one in the works about Durarara!! with a comparison to Baccano! in the works.).
Another by-product of giving up on creative writing is that I’ve also given up on art, and I’m sure my DeviantART account is very lonely but… I learned drawing from when I was very young (the only reason I’m an Asian who doesn’t play piano is because my parents sold our piano to buy plane tickets to get out of Asia) and would have liked to be an artist too, except again the lacking creativity part. In high school I used to draw fanart a lot but then that sort of petered out, and perhaps it’s because I found that I’d outgrown most anime series and no longer found them captivating enough to draw fanart for. But translating Baccano! has made me draw fanart again, perhaps because it’s more consistently at the back of my mind. I was even thinking of Baccano! when I was embroiled in a fight with one party wielding a giant monkey wrench, when most other people would be first and foremost thinking about self-preservation.
Ladd Russo was my favourite character in Baccano! when I was watching the anime, but during volume 8/9 translations I’ve become fond of Victor Talbot. I think he says 2 lines in the anime in the 1717 backstory and that’s it. He’s a minor character still, but as with most other characters in Baccano!, his distinct personality really shines through – openly arrogant and insulting, self-righteous and a major hardass. I actually mistranslated some of Nile’s comments about him in the colour pages at first (I was working off a really bad Chinese translation at the beginning), but Nile sort of says that Victor is the only immortal who tries to think about how their current presence might negatively affect normal human beings and tries to think about ways to prevent it. He also has a lot of respect for Maiza, despite being an FBI agent himself and Maiza being a Camorrista, and seems to care about his mortal employees despite being a rather nasty boss most of the time.
My respects to Richard Lerderer and his book Anguished English. In the beginning of the book, he has a chapter called “The World According to Student Bloopers.” It gives some interesting and previously unknown historical insights such as “Joan of Arc was burned into a steak” and “Queen Elizabeth exposed herself before her troops and then her navy went out and defeated the Spanish armadillo.”
Today I found a chance to compile something similar. I’m working as an English teacher in China at the moment, and we just finished one term. I was assigned to teach a writing course, and so one of the topics we covered was how to describe a process or give instructions. There were a lot of things to keep in mind for developing a paragraph by process, such as verb tenses, second person address, transitions, etc, so I decided to get the students to revisit this type of paragraph on the final exam.
The question asked students to teach the reader how to cook their favourite food. In China, a popular dish that is easy to make is stir-fried tomatos and eggs, so at least half of my students wrote about how to make this. Despite their homework being pretty well-written most of the time, the writing on the exam was atrocious for some reason. Like Lerderer with History, below is a recipe of the compiled mistakes I found in my students’ exams about making tomatoes with eggs:
You need to prepare some material like two eges and two tomatos and oil. If you like tomatos you can add more.
First, you should put the tomatos into a water-pool and clearn them carefully. You should clearn them by change water three times. When you can make sure about the tomatos are clearn enough and put them on a table.
Second, you need to spoil the edges. This is how. Brake the two eges into a bow, a big one, by knocking their middle. And mix them with chopsticks until they are disturbed. If you like, add a suitable amount of soul, and if you like saccharine then add some sugar. Then you can fire a fire under a pen or some other cooking machine and pour some oil. You should let the pen hung on the fire for a few second until the oil is boiling, then fry the eges until they are yellow.
Third, you should cook the tomatos by cutting them into picie. The fourth step may be the most important one. Put them into a pen and hit them with fire until they are juicy, then make the eges together in the pen. Wait until you can smell something special, it means they are born and can be easted. Don’t forget to turn off the machine. If you like you can fry it with rice, but make sure to take the rice apart with a large spoop before you add rice otherwise it can’t be cooked.
The huge emphasis on cleaning tomatoes isn’t the student trying to add supercilious details. In China, you really do need to wash tomatoes three times. I still don’t understand why so many students wrote “fry the eggs until they are yellow.” Aren’t eggs yellow before you fry them too? am I missing something?
“Soul” is supposed to be “salt.” There was another one who spelled it like “sault.” “Saccharine” probably came from me teaching them that they should try to be formal.
The word “pen” is supposed to be “pan,” obviously. Another interesting alternative spelling for “pot” was “pet.” It’s a pity that the student wasn’t writing about hotdogs.
Another random violent illegal thing happened around me today. I don’t understand why I always meet these things.
I was buying sunglasses at a glasses store close to the university I’m working at, because I lost my sunglasses a while ago and it’s a whopping 30 degrees C outside with sunshine everyday. And I’m in a Chinese city that’s won the UN prize for best city for civillian life or some award like that, so it’s very green and clean and this also means there’s no smog, so most women my age are crowding the sidewalk with their garish parasols while I’m trying to get a tan. Anyway, as I was trying on sunglasses, a customer started arguing with the proprietors because he had previously gotten a pair of sunglasses from when when he just wanted reading glasses, and then he claimed that a store staff had told him that he could get the lenses changed for 35 RMB. However, the staff who were there said they would charge 40 RMB.
At first everyone was pretty jocular, but then the customer said that it would be impossible for them to remain in business, the proprietor answered sharply, and so the customer tried to get around the counter to attack the proprietor. The two saleswomen and I tried to get them to stay on either side of the counter. Normally I don’t wade into fights like this, but you have to understand that this is the South of China, and other than the proprietor, who was a man, both the saleswomen and the male customer were shorter than thinner than me. Anyway, we sort of managed, but then the customer shoved me aside and rushed out. I thought it was over, but he went next door where there was a home-run repair / hardware shop, grabbed a giant monkey wrench, and came back and tried to club the proprietor over the head.
The proprietor went to the doorway leading to the store’s back warehouse while continuing to yell insults at the customer (I guess he went there so he could put a door between him and the customer if the customer really got violent). At this point, some people were starting to gather to watch from outside. The two women and I tried to get the customer to calm down, and I told him both of them could talk again tomorrow when both of them had their rational minds back, but instead he told me to arbitrate between him and the store. This I didn’t want to do, but I listened so that at least he would stop trying to club the other man. He explained this to me, and I said he needed to tell the store who the salesperson was who told him he could change lenses for 35 RMB, but he couldn’t say. Because he couldn’t say, the owner and the women got smug, and so he tried to attack them again. We asked him to put the monkey wrench down but he refused. Finally one of the women caved and said she’d change his lenses for 35 RMB. The man sat down, but the woman gave him the last parting shot that he already crossed the line and they could press charges.
I bought a pair of sunglasses and left. While I was waiting for the bus, it didn’t seem like the conflict escalated anymore, and the onlookers dispersed. I wondered whether the customer really meant to attack the owner, because that would have been really serious – the wrench was longer than my forearm. I also wondered whether I should have gone out and called the police, but I had a feeling that the Chinese police wouldn’t really want to deal with something minor like this, while more massive crimes were going on. I haven’t experienced anything like this in Canada, and I can’t imagine any disagreement over $5 would involve one person attacking another with a wrench in broad daylight in a store. And we’re not talking about street gangs here; the customer was decently dressed in a middle-aged office worker sort of way and so was the store proprietor. It seems that along with things like spitting on the streets and not lining up, certain common courtesies are really absent here.
Today I went for a talk with the Dean of the Sino-Canadian International College in Guangxi University. He maintains that for full-time instructors, he can only hire White people. However, that’s not the topic I want to address, because on the way back from the interview, a young man accused me of robbing him and insisted that I go to the police with him.
I’m in China now (if you know where Guangxi is – it’s the next province over from Guangdong/Canton), and I’ve been here for about a month and a half. I really should have written a lot more about my insights here, but constantly looking for work, as well as writing an encyclopaedia entry for Salem Press’s new reference set on comics, sucked up most of my time and energy. Also, most of the things I’ve observed here I’ve only observed; they didn’t affect me directly. Today’s event certainly did; through this experience I can talk about many of the things I’ve heard about in China, such as its crime rate and the gap between rich and poor. Those topics will be over at Radical Compounds.
What happened was: outside the university campus, there’s a newspaper stand type of thing that looks like a hut, which exists in this form all over China. They sell magazines, newspapers, periodical comics, snacks, and things like phone cards. I’ve visited one already to purchase a monthly comic, and since I needed change for the bus (1 RMB), I decided to buy something like it. In many big Chinese cities, the buses have 1 driver and 1 ticket collector, who sells you tickets and gives you change. In Nanning none of the buses have a ticket collector, hence I needed change. But I couldn’t find anything from looking through the stands, and left to go to a market on the other side of the street. As I was about to cross the street, a young man caught up with me and asked me whether I came across a MP4 player. I told him that I didn’t see anything like it, and he said I was standing beside him at the newspaper stand and then when I left, he reached into his pocket and found that his MP4 player was missing.
I asked him what it looked like. He said it was white. I said I didn’t take it and kept on crossing the street (normally I don’t cross streets if I can help it – crossing the street in China is suicidal). He said that we should go to the police so they can make sure I didn’t take it. Since I was on my way home I reiterated my point and said that it would take up time and I wasn’t willing to go. The truth is, I wasn’t in a hurry, but I didn’t have any ID with me, and also I have no idea what Chinese law allows or doesn’t allow, especially for someone who doesn’t hold Chinese citizenship. My Chinese is decent, but not good enough that I can understand law articles written in Chinese. More importantly, I’d been warned about robbers in China (my mom’s words is that “they practice until their first two fingers are the same length!” – not sure how that would help). I was afraid that he meant to rob me while I was preoccupied with explaining that I didn’t rob him. He started explaining that he just went to buy a pack of gum for bus money and then found his MP4 missing, and I was the only one standing beside him the whole time, so he suspects me. I was annoyed and getting frightened, so I got on a random bus. He followed me on the bus.
I was going to get change from a 5 but since I couldn’t, I gave the driver my 5. Anyway, the young man asked me in a rather loud voice why I was giving a 5. I said I originally wanted to exchange it but then he started annoying me. He again started asking me to go to the police. I said I wanted to leave; he started asking the passengers and the driver whether there’s a police station nearby. Everyone said they didn’t know, and looked very uncomfortable. I was thinking that they’d rather not get dragged into a dispute, even if they did know where the police station was.
I told him that I could take everything out of my pockets to show him. He said ok, so I took out my wallet and cell phone and some candy wrappers. He saw this and said that he can’t be sure I’m not concealing it somewhere else, and he can’t do a body search on the street, so we should go to the police. I said I’m on my way home, and he said that he’d follow me home. At this point I got more alarmed, and asked him why I would show him where I lived. Now I was worried not that he would rob me, because if he did intend to do that he would not insist on going to the police. Now I was worried that he’d planted his MP4 player on me somewhere so that he can prove that I stole it when we got to the police. So, I began going through everything to see if I had someone on me that wasn’t mine, and didn’t find anything. Since he said that his MP4 is white, I took out my MP3, which is black, and showed him. He was still insisting that I go to the police with him, and I said I had another interview in the afternoon. He accused me of making up stories because I had previously said I was going home. I explained that I needed to go home and get documents I needed for the interview because I didn’t want to carry them around. This was a lie on my part, and it did no good. Since I didn’t have anything on me I decided that I could prove my innocence to the police rather than waste time taking random buses in a city I’m not familiar with. So we got off.
Apparently there were no police stations around there, and he asked some illegally operating motorcycle taxi services where he could find one. One motorcyclist offered to take us. I became suspicious again and said I won’t go with a motorcycle, because I had no idea if they were working together and meant to abduct me. The motorcyclist, a middle-aged, weathered man with bloodshot eyes and brown teeth in a large grin, seemed incredibly amused. The young man asked me whether I would go if we take a taxi, and I said I would. So we started to look around for a taxi. We had gotten off at a very busy intersection, at a bus stop where maybe 20 different bus lines passed through. There were tons of taxis but they all had someone in them. The motorcyclist suggested we call the police and have them come here. The boy agreed, took out his cell, and dialled 110. He asked the motorcyclist what the street was and the motorcyclist told him. When he was on the phone with the police, he sounded rather objective – “a woman was standing beside me” and “I don’t know but I suspect her,” so I felt that he genuinely did lose his MP4 player, and that we’d clear this up.
At this point I also called my mother. She told me to speak Chinese to her on the phone but I said I’d rather speak English, and told her what happened. She became extremely alarmed and asked me where I was. Since my Chinese isn’t very good, I didn’t remember the name of the stop, and went to check. She asked me what she could do, and I said nothing, I’d go to the police, I was just letting her know where I was. I was also letting her know in case I was mistaken and the young man did intend to do something to me, at least investigators would have a reported location. She told me to wait and not go anywhere and she went to ask her colleagues.
My mother called back later to say she also called the police. I was thinking something along the lines of “that’s a waste of taxpayers’ money, he already called the police,” but she explained that he called the police on me and me calling the police on him are separate cases. I sort of saw the logic of that, and she said to wait where I was and she’d come with the police. The police that the young man called still hadn’t arrived, so we both called the police again. The girl who answered the phone was a little annoyed because she had already reported it. We went to a guard station to wait. I asked him what his name was, and whether he was a student at Guangxi U. He said the name of his school, which I didn’t know, and said that he came here to visit. After a while he asked me whether I was a local, and I admitted that I wasn’t.
I should explain what he looked like – I told my mom on the phone that he’s probably my age or younger, and he really did look quite young. It’s a stereotype that Chinese people are short, but that’s mostly because the first Chinese people to live in North America are from the south, where Guangxi is. They tend to be shorter and darker-skinned than northern Chinese people, but I won’t get into stereotypes for now. I’m from the north, so I’m taller than the average Southern Chinese female – I’m probably at the average height of a Southern Chinese male. So he and I were the same height, and he was considerably skinnier than I was, and you could even say he looked pretty. He obviously wasn’t from a wealthy family, but he didn’t look extremely destitute either – he looked like an average middle-class kid, with running shoes, a semi-fashionable haircut, a loose grey jacket with a lot of zippers and pockets, and had a slight slouch.
So I admitted that I wasn’t from around here, and that in fact I’d just come home from abroad. He asked me whether I was from here originally, and I said no, from the north. He said he thought I could understand Mandarin, so why was I speaking another language on the phone? I said since I grew up abroad, my Chinese isn’t good. He nodded and didn’t say anything, and I said to him that I don’t remember his name even though he just told me a few minutes ago because I had no idea how the characters were written. He seemed a little confused about all of this. At some point during the wait he apologized for wasting my time. I said that it was all right, there were few other better options for him.
The police that he had called arrived first, after maybe 20 minutes. They were 2 men – I was hoping they’d brought a woman, especially if it involved some sort of body search. But they just came to take up back to the station. One was a tall and corporeal man in his 40s or 50s, his short hair mostly grey. The other was a short and slight young man with longer hair and big, watery eyes. My mother called me as they arrived and told me that they’re bringing some kind of precinct leader with them and told me to stay put. But the police that arrived told me to go with them. The precinct leader on my mother’s end started telling me over the phone to let him speak with the 2 police officers, but they refused to take the phone. So I was trying to explain to the two officers present that another officer was coming, but since my Chinese isn’t very good I didn’t know the title of the officer with my mother, and didn’t really get across to them. I explained I was from abroad and my Chinese wasn’t very good. Meanwhile, I also heard snatches of the police officer on the other end of the line instructing me loudly to say that I have rights not to get into the police car. I looked skeptically at the police officers and their car, because I didn’t have a very good impression of what my rights were.
Both officers and the young man were in the car at this time and I was standing on the sidewalk. I told them I was told to stay there. Many passers-by were looking at us with intense interest. When I refused to get into the car, both police officers came out again and came to stand beside me on the sidewalk. The older man told me that if I am innocent, then the young man would be responsible for any legal outcome, so would I please get into the car. I hesitated and then told whomever was on the other end of the phone that I had no choice and I would be going with them. So we all went in and drove off, the police putting on the sirens to clear space for a U-turn.
My mother asked me which police station they were taking me to, and I had to ask again because I couldn’t remember the name they told me. My mother told me not to be afraid and I told her I wasn’t. The older officer said to the young man that if this creates some sort of international incident, he’d bear responsibility, and asked me where I was from. I said Canada. He seemed amused by this. Then he started citing law articles as he drove – “In the law of the People’s Republic of China, Article 82, point 1, it says…” he said some idiom I don’t remember, which sounded like it had something to do with who I can or cannot talk to. I said I don’t understand. He seemed amused again and told me to ask my mom. This weirdness of the situation hit me and I started smiling as well.
We got to the police station and the older officer started explaining to another middle-aged officer, who had weathered skin and dark bags under his eyes, in either Cantonese or the local Guangxi dialect, still looking amused. I caught “rob” and “Canada” but that was about it. He and the younger officer left at this point and the officer with bag under his eyes got another younger officer to start writing down testimonies and take our IDs. I told him I had no ID; he asked me for my passport. I said I don’t carry it around with me, so he asked me to call my mother to bring it. I called my mother, who said she didn’t go on a detour back home to get it, but she had photocopies at her office and should have brought those. Meanwhile, the young man told the younger officer that he came from another city and was visiting his sister, who was doing graduate work at Guangxi U. I asked him what she was studying and he said agriculture. The younger officer asked us whether there were other people around at the time, and he said that there were two kids. The officer asked how old the kids were, and I said elementary or middle school, but there were a lot of passers by as well. He also recorded what the MP4 looked like – the young man said it was white, about the size of the palm of his hand, and he wrote down the brand but didn’t know the model number.
The middle-aged officer took me to another room and asked me my side of the story, which I told him. I said initially I was reluctant to come to the police in case he planted something on me, and he nodded. He said the only thing they can do is to make me take everything out and show that I didn’t have the MP4 player, and if I prove that I was innocent, then the young man could just apologize. I said that’s what the young man came to do anyway. So we went back to the first room and he explained this to the young man, and so I took everything out of my pockets and my backpack and showed them that my sweater has no pockets, and the pockets of my pants were too small to fit anything. So the young man bowed a few times and apologized for wasting my time. I felt awkward and said that it was all right.
The younger officer was still taking notes, so I called my mom and said that the problem is solved. She told me to stay put, since they were almost there, and that the young man needed talking to for disrupting other people’s lives. I told my mother that if he lost something then of course he’d try to get it back. She said no, they brought the other officer so they can’t turn back. The younger officer said he’s finished taking the testimony and so the young man could go. He looked at me and I said I was told that both of us should stay. We sat down again and the officer started going through TV channels, ending up at figure skating. It was also rather surreal.
I had some idea of what my mother and the officer would say to the young man, so I waited for a while and called them again to tell them everything was all right. Again my mother reiterated that my rights were violated and so she needed to show up. I said my rights weren’t violated because I agreed to go to the police, and that was the only reasonable thing to do. She insisted that the officer with her had things to say, and that she was almost there before I was too far from where they were. I sat back down and told the young man not to mind what they said to him when they arrived because I understand that if he thinks he lost something, that was the best thing he could have done. I told him I’d also been robbed and I also went to the police.
I waited outside so I can talk to my mother first. They got there after a long time, and their driver apologized. I said it was all right. My mother demanded to know where the young man was and he came outside as well; she told him that he’d violated my rights by dragging me off the bus. He said that he didn’t drag me off the bus and again I said I got off the bus willingly. She went on to say that since I was from Canada, I wouldn’t be stealing his MP4 player (there seems to be no logic to this, but she was trying to say that since I’m from Canada, chances are I am both better brought up and more wealthy than he is). She then said that he could have caused me permanent psychological damage and made him leave his name and number, “so we can send you the psychiatrist’s bill.” I tried to stop her from ranting but she didn’t. She asked him whether he thought I looked like a thief, and why he’d suspect me of all people when there were tons of other people around, etc. At this point the young man looked like he was going to cry so I again told her it was all right. He apologized to her as well, and then went back inside when my mother said I should get in the car. The driver took my backpack to put it into the car.
I stayed while the officer that came with my mother took the young man back inside and started lecturing him. “Why would you suspect her? Do you know who she is? She’s a teacher at Guangxi University! Well, aren’t you?” In light of the conversation with the Dean, “Uh, no, I don’t think so.” And about violating my rights, especially since I was a girl, so he shouldn’t have dragged me off the bus. We both stipulated again that he didn’t drag me off the bus, and in fact he didn’t touch me at all. He made the boy repeat his story that he came to visit his sister and made him leave his sister’s phone number, which the boy did, but said he didn’t want to trouble his sister. I was getting somewhat annoyed because the young man was obviously distressed. Both my mother and the officer said that he’d also wasted their time – my mother said “my wage for one hour could probably buy 3 of your MP3 or MP4 players,” and the officer showed the young man his badge and said, “Do you know what position I hold? And I had to come all the way out here!” This was annoying because I felt like he was saying it to me as well. He also ended up by rebuking the young man to manage his own things better and not to leave things in his pockets.
My mother said that there was nothing more for me to do and so we went back to the car. I lingered for a bit, but there really wasn’t anything I could do, so turned to go. The young man apologized again and I said it was all right, and went back to the car. The officer came out after a moment and asked my mother and I whether we wanted to say anything else, with the idea of whether we wanted to press charges. My mother said no, and I also said no. While we were all getting into the car, the boy was let go and he walked away and looked back at us, and I’m not sure what he intended. I looked at him a little sadly.
On the way back, the officer who came with my mom lectured me goodnaturedly on how thieves operate in China. There’s a term that translates as “phishing,” I guess, whereby someone insists you stole something from them and then asks you to give them cash in return for not pressing charges. Or, after they make you give them cash, they might say that your money is counterfeit and ask you for more. He said I was right not to get on a motorcycle, but I shouldn’t have gotten off the bus, because the bus is a confined space and there are many other thieves outside. I shouldn’t even have gotten on the bus; I should have called the police when he accused me of robbing him. Or, if I didn’t want to lead him home, I could lead him to my mother’s work place. Especially if the thief who is talking to me has other helpers around, it could be very dangerous, and several men could jump out of a van and then hold me hostage.
He also said that he was sure that the young men was a thief, because he couldn’t look the officer in the eye when he was being spoken to. The young man also didn’t look like a student – “his running shoes were for running,” and his loose jacket was to hide things in. I was told to keep my mouth shut and listen, but I was thinking, of course he couldn’t look the officer in the eye – the officer was in a position of authority and screaming at him; also, what’s a student supposed to look like and what’s a thief supposed to look like? And many people wear running shoes. I thought he was dressed like any average young guy in China. My mother seemed to agree with the officer so I didn’t voice my opinions much.
Anyway, we all had lunch together near my mother’s work place, and then the driver sent the officer back to his office and then sent me home. During lunch, the officer told me that I dressed like I wasn’t from around here, which surprised me, since I purposefully dressed rather like local young adults in a shiny puffy coat. But my hat and my earrings apparently give me away, and thieves are great at picking out people who aren’t locals. My mother’s colleague, who also went with her, said that if you ask the taxi drivers in Guangxi the price in Mandarin they’d give you a different price than if you asked in the local dialect or Cantonese, so that applies all across the board. During lunch, other topics came up, such as America’s attitude towards Canada, how certain Vietnamese people hate Chinese people for slaughtering entire villages, and how America and China can co-exist as superpowers, and whether people in Guangxi eat dogs a lot, but those topics aren’t relevant here.
After the driver dropped off the officer and started on the way back to where I lived, he said to me that he felt sorry for the young man. I was immediately relieved that someone else shared my point of view that he was not a thief. The driver went on to say that he’s not sure the officer was entirely right, and I said yes, the police also have their biases. I was glad everything worked out in my favour – or at least, no one was hurt by this; the young man didn’t get a criminal record, I didn’t get mugged or kidnapped. However, if there was anyone who was psychologically damaged from this, it wasn’t me, but him. Or rather, not psychologically damaged, but his insistence that we go to the police indicated that he had faith in the system of justice, and that as a victim he would get satisfaction. Since I didn’t steal his MP4 player, the only satisfaction he could get would have been a sympathetic police force. Instead he got chewed out. Upon reflection, I thought that the officer’s rebuke of managing this things more carefully was a backhanded way of giving him the benefit of the doubt, and if he is not a thief I hope he also remembers what the officer said and the implication behind it.