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Day 93 – Street Fighting and Chinese Justice in Beijing

June 4, 2010

Dateline: Beijing, China – Friday, June 4, 2010

China is overwhelming. I’ve spent the last three months in Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Vietnam. They are all small, tidy, podunk places compared to Beijing. There are people everywhere. The streets are wide and full of cars. Just walking out of the Beijing West Train Station and to the Junshibowuguan subway station, I could tell this was a juggernaut of a city. I had to take sky walkways to cross the street. The blocks felt long and unending, the whole way full of shops and offices. Nothing looked familiar. There was a lot less honking and a lot more cars. And they were going fast.

I’d felt the same way when I visited Japan, but there, everything seemed a bit more compact. Streets were narrower and buildings felt closer together, so there was an intimacy to the place. It also helped that I had a good friend with me who knew her way around town. An emissary goes a long way to overcoming a place where you can barely read the street signs.

I started today with no one to bridge the cultural divide. Luckily, it seems the Olympics have gone a long way to helping Westerners make their way through the city. The signs have English names on them to go along with the Chinese.

I made my way the 1 km to the subway station, bought a ticket through a vending machine (yay, “In English” button!), and hopped a train to my destination, a youth hostel in the Chaoyang district. I wanted to check out the dorm rooms since single rooms were running upwards of $20, a total sticker shock after spending no more than $12 on private, luxurious rooms in Vietnam.

As usual, I wandered. I went up and down a long street with a name similar to the one I was supposed to be on. Turns out I needed to be in an alley parallel to a main road. Who knew?

Hot, sweaty, tired, and hungry I immediately agreed to a bed in a four-person dorm room after checking to make sure it had a floor, ceiling, and four walls. I didn’t care. I needed to sit down and orient myself.

I hopped on the internet, shot an e-mail out to a friend who was supposed to be in China and then called my local ambassador. Max has been living in China for three years building a gaming company. Even though he’s in the middle of a bit of a crunch, he agreed to meet me at a Starbucks at Oriental Plaza near Wangjujing station. Perfect.

I settled in, took a shower, and headed out to meet him. Oriental Plaza is a high-end mall that would be just at home in Los Angeles as anywhere else. Haven’t seen one of these since I was in Thailand nearly two months ago. It’s a bit disorienting.

Max showed up after a stint at work and we ended up walking around Wangfujing, which, turns out, is a big tourist attraction. For Chinese people. I guess the shopping is renowned and the food alley nearby is an attraction itself. People from all around China were taking pictures of various skewered meats. Things like scorpions (alive!), sheep’s testicles, liver, grubs, and other things that I could not identify (Max had to tell me about the sheep’s balls).

We visited his office, tried unsuccessfully to buy me a reasonably priced SIM card for my phone, and had dinner at a Peking duck restaurant. Peking duck in Peking. Love it.

Really, being in China is like being in a giant Chinese restaurant. If you want something, you have to yell at somebody to get it. Everywhere you go, things smell like Chinese food. People elbow, shout, and are Western rude. It’s awesome.

Max has been here long enough so that his Chinese is passable for day-to-day interactions. It was a trip to see my Canadian friend, who I hadn’t seen in years, exasperatedly negotiate with cell providers or yell at a waitress and place an order, all in the “shhhrrr wrrrr, nwrm nawh” of Mandarin. People kept turning to me, expecting me to carry the language load, and Max would have to get their attention and show who was the real local. I’d just end up sitting there like a deaf mute, then having to ask Max, “What did he say? How much was the SIM card?”

After dinner we met up with a few Max’s friends in the Sanlitun area, which has become the ex-pat bar hang out. The embassies are in this area, so a lot of foreign kids roamed the streets. There’s no drinking age, apparently, so we saw 12-year-old kids mixing it up with people our age. It was bizarre. When Max first visited China five years ago, the place was just some seedy bars with karaoke-quality bands serenading fat White men. Those bars are still there, but now there’s a much younger bar scene. People decked to the nines were strolling around, eating meat skewers from street vendors, playing drinking games at outdoor tables, dancing to music in small clubs, and generally cruising around doing what 20-something’s do: try to get laid.

It was intense. At one point, we were sitting there, chatting and drinking and a fight broke out in the bar next door. It was some big white guy and a Chinese dude. It lasted for over 10 minutes, which is the equivalent of a human running 5,000 miles without stopping. Usually, someone gets the upper hand within a few seconds, someone gets their ass kicked, and it’s over. Or, two people struggle until they both get tired and people break it up.

No doing here. They just kept coming back together after being pulled apart. That, despite the fact that both of them glassed each other within 1 minute of the onset and they were both bleeding profusely.

Chris and Max had seen a few fights, but they said this was the first with a racial component.

When the fight seemed over, a couple of Chinese guys would yell something and try to stir things up again. Not sure what the White guy was thinking. He’s a minority here. He’s going to lose one way or another. Short of pure preservation of one’s life, I see no reason to try to mix it up with a local. Shoot, the White guy probably couldn’t even explain “self-defense” to the cops.

Ah, the cops. They really were the best part of all this. They actually showed up mid-fight, but somehow the fracas kept going. They even seemed to disappear for a while. Chris said they don’t like to get involved. Too messy and complicated.

True to his word, the cops didn’t come in until everything had cleared out. A short, fat, donut-eating-looking guy conducted an “investigation,” walking the crime scene, staring at the ground, while his buddy cop stood around in surgical gloves trying to look CSI.

Two white guys adamantly kept trying to explain what happened to the fat cop. He just stared at them and didn’t even take any notes. I doubt he knew what they were saying.

An eventful introduction to Beijing, if I don’t say so myself. Apparently, bars don’t really close so the kids can stay out till the sun comes up. I hopped a cab back to my hostel and crashed out at 2 a.m. Can’t do it up like I could before. I’m an old man now, dawg.

GALLERY: Click through to today’s gallery to see pictures of food, the changing scenery from the train, and a couple pics of a man who for some reason was sleeping on the floor of the posh dining car and to whom no staff seemed to pay any mind.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. sally permalink
    June 8, 2010 8:57 am

    You met up w/max? Tell him hi for me.

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