Saturday, July 14, 2012

Like Brokedown Palace. But with a happy ending. And no heroin involved.

I read this fantastic book last fall called Wild Swans - a non-fiction book about this Chinese woman who grew up during the cultural revolution in China, her mother, who was a big player in the early communist government, and her grandmother, who was a concubine to a Chinese warlord.  It's really fascinating and made me understand China so much more.  My mom wondered if Ben might like to read it - he has time on weekends to do some reading - so I brought it to Chelan with me when we rendezvoused with Ben a couple of weeks ago.

"Hey, Ben, do you want to read this book?  It's delicious to the eyes and most desirable."

"Ahhhhh, I don't think I'd better take it back with me."

"Why not?"

"I'll get into trouble.  It will get confiscated.  I could get thrown in jail or sent home."

So I brought it back home.  He can read it when he returns.  And you really do have to be careful while in China.  A story to demonstrate:

I called my mother-in-law today to ask (per Dylan's many, many requests) whether he left his brown-and-black stuffed bear at her house when we were there. 

She said she hadn't seen it, and then she said, "So what's this about Ben??"


"Have you been on Facebook yet today?"

My heart dropped a little.  "Noooooo..."

"Well, I guess he was arrested!"

Arrested.  In China.  I had fleeting visions of that movie, Brokedown Palace cross my mind:
I remember seeing this movie in college and thinking, "I am NEVER going to Thailand." I guess these two girls are on vacation in Thailand, and some dude plants heroin on them.  So when they are ready to leave, these police find the heroin and throw the girls in this horrible Thai jail.  They go through the whole she-bang.  Maggots, fleas, starvation, filth, etc.

So this is what I was thinking of when she said that.  She read to me, over the phone, what Ben had posted on facebook, which was this:

"Well, I got detained by the police tonight! That is not fun anywhere, especially in China. Note to all: If you are not staying in a hotel while here, be sure to register with the local police! Also, don't let Kathleen take pictures of protesters in front of the police, they don't like that at all!!! Now on Monday we all have to return to the police station and register. What a fun evening. Mr. Zhu, from NCPE had to come spring us from the slammer! Glad he was still near by and not in Beijing."

I talked to Ben on Skype tonight, and he gave me a few more details.  They were in a taxi, heading to a different Hot Pot restaurant they had heard about.  It was Ben and a few guys from work, plus Kathleen, Ben's coworker's wife.  The taxi slowed to a halt and sat still for quite some time, and they couldn't figure out what was going on.  Soon, they got close enough to see that there were protesters sitting in the middle of the road.  They didn't have signs or anything - Ben still doesn't know what the protest was about.  Kathleen thought, "Oh, how interesting.  I'm going to take a picture."  I mean, wouldn't you?  I would have.  The police near the protest saw her taking the picture in the cab and didn't seem too pleased.  They were gesticulating to each other and discussing and pointing.  The cab wasn't making any progress, so Ben and company decided to get out and walk past the protest, and then catch another cab.  As they were walking past the police, they asked Ben and company to go with them to the police station, which is actually really close to where the protest was.

They sat in a room for 2 1/2 hours - not behind bars or anything.  They had a Chinese friend, Echo, with them, who helped communicate with the police. They kept saying, "Why are you Americans in Baoding?  What brings you here?"  They told the police that they were there for work purposes.  The police told them that, if they're not living in a hotel, they have to register with the local police.  Who knew?  Not them.  Not me.

Ben's interpreter got ahold of the Chinese project manager, Mr. Zhu, who came and vouched for them, verifying that, yes indeed, they are there for work.

Ben and company were released, but the police confiscated the foreigners' passports (that makes me reeeeally nervous and have Brokedown Palace flashbacks again...) until Monday.  On Monday morning, they all have to go to the police station to register and to "be educated" about the proper things to do when you're living in China.  I don't know if part of that class will be, "Don't take pictures of anything that will make our country look bad...." or what. :)

What cracks me up is that we were never stopped or taken to the police station when we were there last summer.  And we stuck out like sore thumbs.  We were the only foreigners for miles around.  For months.  And we were all over the place, going to the zoo, walking around...very visable. Whey weren't we stopped then?  Why haven't Ben or his coworkers been stopped and asked to register in the past 7 months?  I truly feel that the picture-taking really was what made them mad, and they're being pains in the butt and doing this registration thing because they're mad about it.

I'm sorry, but sometimes China is really jacked up.  My poor little jailbird. :)

Here are some pics Ben has put up on his facebook page recently (he's able to access facebook now - he had to set up some fancy, under-the-radar thingey called a VPN to have any access to facebook, blogs, or most websites.  Most of them are blocked):

Here he is, posing with Christo, who is from Mexico, and his friend Nick's Near Beer:
 This poster is on the wall of the coffee shop on Stinky Street.  I think it's seriously funny:
 Kathleen, her daughter Kassye, and Ben at the great wall:
 Ben, after he helped to spray foam at work one day:

Be safe, Ben.  But if they get so angry that they kick you out of China, I won't be terribly sad about that...


megan said...

Wow!! That's crazy!! I'm glad they got it all cleared up though!! China is so weird!!

Jenny said...

i would be so nervous to go there. hope things work out and that his project goes quickly so he can come home.

Nyline said...

Funny thing, when i saw Ben's comment about being mind immediately went to "Broken Down Palace" what a jacked up situation. Glad he was set free!

akamom said...

Maybe they were those Falun people. It is sort of a religion. For some reason the Chinese government really doesn't like them. When they demonstrate they get beat up and incarcerated. They are always demonstrating outside the Chinese Consulate in New York. It was right down the street from where Cecily lived when you visited them in New York.

Norlund Clan said...

Wow that is just crazy. How much longer is he going to be over there?
The inside of the trains were really neat. I just wish we could have ridden on one. We thought that that was what it was, but we still had fun.
You think I look good blonde? I am still trying to get use to it, I had to go lighter to cover the gray hairs better. I hate being gray.

Emily Zoe Hale said...

"It's delicious to the eyes and most desirable." Awesome quote!... Also great story!

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