I learn something new about China all the time. Today I went to the EF office in FuXingMen to cheer some colleagues. They weren’t there so I left 4 cups of green tea by their locked office door with a note that said, “You can do it!”
After that, I went to a local bakery to buy a cake for my students at Sony-Ericsson. It was their last day of class with me. The cake was 188 RMB and I paid this with my own money, which is not unusual for me to do.
I went to the subway station at FuXingMen to travel back to my home in SiHui, and prepare for the class. I’m in the habit of taking the subway because we had a small budget with the Summer Games training and now it’s just what I do to be environmental responsible. Anyway, I went into the subway station, put my boxed cake through the x-ray machine, bought my single-use ticket, then stood in line near the back of the train (that’s the end that’s closer to the stairwell I use at my destination station).
I decided to wait for the next train because the arriving train was old and did not have air conditioning. There were 2 labels on the cake that said to keep refrigerated so I didn’t want to take the subway all the way across town without air-conditioning. I decided to wait for the (new) trains that had a/c.
After the second old train left, the Red Guard who was standing near me walked over to me and started to look at me. There were 2 other blue shirted officers who were talking and looking at me. After the second train left, the 2 officers became 4 and then talked to the Red Guard. The Red Guard walked to me and started to ask me what was in the box and where I was going, etc. I cut him off and began to tell him in my bad Chinese that there was a cake in the clearly marked cake box and it was a gift to my students. He seemed surprised when I said “students” and asked me where the class was, looking me up and down. This questioning went on for just a few minutes, until the next train arrived and I said shortly, “I’ll just give you my cooperation and take the next train.”
At one time the Red Guard was telling me that taking a train without a/c was “no matter” and this made me a little mad because I had spent a lot of money on this cake and I thought it presumptuous of him to declare that “no matter”. I doubt he would consider that “no matter” if it were his 188 RMB. But what really haunts me is the look in that old man’s face. His eyes. He had genuine hate in his eyes, and with every question he shot at me I felt a kind of dehumanizing despair, as if, according to him, I was already guilty of something. I was the bad man, the criminal, the terrorist bent on destroying China’s Summer Games moment.
That was new for me in China. I don’t even get that stuff in America. But I bet this old man knew how to hate. I bet he knew the intoxicating, euphoric combination of ignorance + power.
This Red Guard was about 60–probably retired to be doing that kind of volunteer work. So that would have made him about the age of those who enjoyed the fruits and genius of the Mao era. If we were back in his day, that old man would be a young man and he would be beating me to death, along with my educated Chinese students who study English. But gone are those good ol’ days and that kind of state-sponsored fun, but maybe the thinking remains dormant yet very much alive. In that Red Guard’s eyes I saw hatred I’ve never seen in Chinese eyes, and that was not heartbreaking but genuinely disturbing or, I don’t know what it was exactly. The whole scene was kind of terrifying because I was the alarmingly obvious foreign minority. Who’d believe me—the laowai?!
These are special times in Beijing. Everyone must be subject to close observation and hyper-security, but that shouldn’t include the assumption of guilt and harassment of someone who’s been a non-stop friendly since he arrived in China.
It shouldn’t bother me so much but I can be sensitive in ways that only notice-what-others-don’t writers can. I never expected to experience this first-hand in this country. In China I’ve had the most remarkable experiences of friendship, comradery, and generosity. This assumption of guilt—as declared in that man’s demonic glare and aggressive questioning—made me an unwanted outsider, not a welcome guest of the Summer Games, and I live here!
The assumption of guilt is not something I’m used to, especially when I’ve made a very small but very genuine effort to help the Chinese deliver successful Summer Games. I can’t put a pretty face on this, as I constantly do in my blog. What I can do is never use the subway during this period and minimize my travel around the city, for fear of whatever lies dormant in this 58 year old China.