2012-05-27 13:09:39 UTC
my first year in China I learned the difference between the words
“fight” and “argument” as they are used by Chinese people. I was right
in my usage but they were also right. Colloquial right versus
dictionary right and if the dictionaries don't quite keep up with
colloquial usage, well, you can't blame the foreigners. With a
different word, I had the same thing happen in college with a
professor from Germany.
I got into a fight yesterday evening.
Not just colloquial American usage of the word “fight” either.
But an altercation that got physical, which caused damage and which
resulted in the police coming.
Anti-foreign sentiment is running high among certain segments of the
Chinese population right now. Anti-foreign sentiment is always
running high among the fifty centers (people who it is rumored are
paid fifty Chinese cents every time they squat on an online comment
thread and make pro-China anti-whatever statements). This is
different however. Noises are being made in national newspapers,
schools and employers are putting up security cameras to watch what
the laowai are doing, and people in Beijing (and other places) who are
living on less than kosher visas are getting shown the way to the
I'm not entirely sure of the details and I don't especially have any
need to be entirely sure of the details but so far as I know it
involves a British guy raping a Chinese woman.
I'm not sure if last night's fight had anything to do with the current
It could just be an expression of the whole “foreigners in hotels”
problem that got a bit out of hand.
Before I go into exactly what happened, you have to realize I was in a
stunningly good mood. I was not cranky, irritable, fussy, or burned
out from interactions with Chinese people. I hadn't eaten dinner yet
but that was a minor thing. I often don't eat until after 8 o'clock
and my late lunch was the long awaited trip to McDonald's.
The night before last an internet friend in Chongqing met me for
dinner. He'd already arranged my hotel for me and even though the
lobby staff and I had a difference of opinion regarding the
appropriateness of filthy rained-on touring bikes in lobbies of fancy
hotels, I still ended up staying there. I don't know what the room
cost but the room plus deposit was 1000 yuan. Even though my
netfriend is getting some of that money back, you shouldn't need to
see pictures to have a pretty good idea of how awesomely nice a room
That night's dinner, that night's bed, that night's shower that I
never wanted to leave, yesterday morning's breakfast buffet, yesterday
morning's long phone call with Mike, and lunch at McDonalds... really,
even with getting lost at least three times on my way out of downtown
Chongqing absolutely nothing could spoil my mood. In fact, with the
exception of some stultifyingly boring scenery, it seems as if the
whole word was conspiring to give me an awesome day. I even had
company for the last twenty kilometers. And when I got to the day's
designated tunnel of doom, we rode through in a truck.
I usually try to find my lodging before I find my dinner.
Not always but usually.
In the event of being unable to find an acceptable hotel, I'd already
found an acceptable campsite. But I didn't want to camp. I've got a
very-nearly finished piece of work for Mission Hills and I wanted to
be plugged in and dealing with that. I also wanted to finish updating
my crazyguyonabike journal.
The street which one of my afternoon cycling companions swore had lots
and lots of hotels didn't have hardly any. Restaurants – yes.
Lodging – no. And the restaurants weren't cheap either.
I saw a little pocket hotel that might maybe work but the lady at the
front desk said they were booked full. I've probably mentioned it
here before but I don't believe in hotels in China being booked full.
It's a convenient “go away we don't want you” excuse. Once one hotel
in a town makes that excuses the chances go up astronomically of every
other hotel in town doing the same. I knew then that there was a
distinct possibility I'd be spending the night in my tent on the
grassy verge in the park hoping that it didn't rain like it has the
past few nights.
Three nights previous, on my first night in Chongqing Municipality,
one hotel refused me outright and a second was “booked full”. Plus
it's always the cities where you run into problems and even if I was
no longer in Chongqing City, I was still in a city.
(Back when the weather was cold, I'd've gone straight to the police
station and asked that they find me a hotel but I wasn't desperately
in need of a shower and I have this very nice tent that hasn't been
getting a lot of use.)
I left the riverside street and went prospecting inland for a street
that actually looked like the kind of place that would have hotels and
I found one. In the middle of a whole bunch of outdoor restaurants
that almost certainly would have something delicious for me to eat,
there was a small hotel. Way way nicer than anything I would normally
pick but I was willing to at least give it a try. If nothing else I
could find out what the going price in town was.
Besides which, it's never easy going from luxury back to my usual kind
Only the receptionist refused to tell me what the price for a room
was. First she dealt with another customer who, I might add, came in
after me. Then, she flat out refused to tell me what the price was.
When it started it was mostly just the “we don't have the license to
accept foreigners” crapola that I've gotten so many times that I don't
even need to think before I start answering. Usually when I run into
those situations I manage them well enough that I get myself behind
the counter and am registering myself on the computer system with the
front desk staff's blessing.
But this time it didn't happen that way.
This time she left me at the desk and got another staff member who
also refused to tell me what the price is. “We don't have the license
to accept foreigners” turned into “we don't accept foreigners”. I may
have gotten loud at this point. I may even have been the first person
to get loud. But even though I was angry, I didn't lose my temper. I
didn't yell obscenities. I didn't get violent. I just kept asking
“what's the price?”, “tell me the price?”, “how much do your rooms
And when the new staff member got all up in my face yelling back at me
that this was the People's Republic of China and I was a guest in
their country and I had to respect the rules and regulations of the
People's Republic of China, I got all up in his face and yelled back
that this was indeed the People's Republic of China and this was a
country that had laws and he couldn't make things up just because he
didn't want to accept foreigners and WHAT IS THE PRICE OF ONE OF YOUR
If this had been taking place in English it would have come out of my
mouth with extra words like “goddammed”, “fucking”, and “asshole”.
Only it wasn't taking place in English and I've been very careful to
never really learn those words. I know a fair few of them well enough
to recognize them when they'd been used but I have not and will not
internalize them. I don't want to be spewing obscenities when I'm
pissed off. It looks bad.
They didn't like me taking photos of them. They really didn't like me
taking photos of them. I managed to get off a snap of the
receptionist and one of the loud men. I never managed to photograph
the big fat guy who tipped things from yelling to physical
The first yelling man told me to leave the lobby. I told him I would
leave when they told me how much a room cost. And the second man
tried to force me to leave.
I'm big. I'm tall. However, as my muscles are covered by a generous
layer of padding, I don't look like a jock. Depending on whether or
not you spend time around athletes and have a concept of just how much
muscle weighs I'm deceptively ten to twenty kilos more than my body
shape accounts for. I also have very good balance and astonishingly
strong legs. It was going to take alot more than a fat slob with a
comb over to get me out of that lobby.
After he went physical, I tried to take his picture. It needed the
flash and autofocus is far more precise about these things than I
might want it to be in these situations and the way in which he kept
batting at my camera and such managed the keep the photo from being
taken. So I decided to take a picture of the prominently displayed
hotel licenses. Which he liked even less. That got him yanking at my
arms and trying (and failing I might add) to hook a foot around my
legs to get me off balance and out of his lobby.
“If you hit me one more time, I'm going to call the police.” I pulled
my phone out of my pocket and he hit me. Only this time the phone
went flying out of my hand and skittering across the lobby floor out
to the street. Phone, battery, battery cover.
He got me out of his lobby. He got me in front of a crowd of
onlookers. You'd think this would mean it wouldn't be so easy to hit
me anymore. But he still tried. Idiot. Wasn't even very good at it.
Back in the days when I had foreign coworkers, one of them was a
steroid junky named John who often got into fights and I'd heard from
him that a lot of Chinese men are shit at fighting but this was
pathetic. Most of what he was doing was shoving and pushing and most
of what I was doing was my impression of a statue mixed with blocking.
I was way better trained than he was. After all, it's only been 25
years since my six months of karate lessons.
I gathered up the pieces of my phone and turned it on. It mostly
looked okay if you didn't count the crack on the screen. It's worse
now but it was there before. Only now the phone's camera wasn't
working. Bastard broke my phone. And I ratcheted up the level of
yelling about twenty more levels. Drew the crowd like a barker to a
circus tent. Invited them to watch fatty try to hit the foreign girl.
And then, I called the police.
He tried to hit the phone out of my hand again but he had friends and
his friends were smart enough to realize that trying to hit the phone
out of a girl's hand in front of a crowd of onlookers while she is
talking to the police is perhaps not the best course of action. They
pulled him away.
I have to give the police credit for finding an English speaking
officer. This was not like the PSB guys in Haikou who show up
whenever there is a foreigner problem but an actual police officer
with the local station. Officer was somewhat dumbstruck by my ability
to talk to him in Chinese and, as a result, did not really use his
English. However, the early questions like “what happened?”, “where
are you from?” and “do you speak any Chinese?” were spoken clearly
enough that I suspect the officer really does speak English rather
than just a few sentences.
Two officers wasn't enough to control my circus crowd and we adjourned
to the police station. As my bike didn't fit in the back of the
police car, I rode while they drove slowly. They made exaggerated
hand signals and called out the windows for “turning left” and “go
straight” which were appreciated. There were turn signals too but the
active interaction with the people in the car set a friendly tone.
I was flabbergasted by some of what happened in the police station.
Not just surprised. Flabbergasted.
For starters, the fat guy never showed up. Then, when the
receptionist got to telling her side of things, she goes on about my
pushing the bike into the hotel lobby, about how she can't speak
English and was unable to understand me when I first came in, and how
it wasn't merely a case of not having the license to accept
foreigners, it was also having no rooms.
All I could think as she told her side of things was I knew I was
acting for the invisible cameras. Most places have a security camera
but that wasn't even the camera on my mind. I was thinking cell
phones and viral videos. I was being damn careful the whole time not
to say a single bad word about China, Chongqing, or anyone's mother.
So while she made up her nice little tale of miscommunication gone
wrong, and a foreigner acting badly, there was no need for me to
refute it. The officers had told the hotel staff to bring the
security camera footage with them to the station.
Bikes didn't come into lobbies. Marian never spoke English. The guy
that came in about a minute after me but who was served in front of me
got checked into an empty room. The license required to accept
foreigners doesn't actually exist. And they hit first.
There really wasn't a whole lot the hotel people could do to make
themselves look good at this point but lying to the police when they
have camera footage of what just happened is guaranteed to make
yourself look even worse.
The owner of the hotel (who showed up in his BMW) paid me 500 yuan in
damages and took me out to dinner. I checked in at a small hotel
close to the police station. For 80 yuan it was probably cheaper than
the other place would have been. Hard to say since I never got around
to finding out how much the other place cost. As per the usual, they
let me behind the counter to register myself. In the last two and a
half weeks, every place that has actually bothered to register me at
all has let me behind the counter.
Prior to this incident, I would have said I know how to play the game.
I know how to talk myself into getting registered by a hotel that's
oh so very afraid of registering foreigners. However, it seems that I
don't. I've just been places where the hotels don't care so much and
are happy to let me wrestle with a system they know they don't know
how to operate. When I finally ended up somewhere that "didn't accept
foreigners" and stood my ground, things got violent.
Afterword: I wrote this this morning when I had no internet connection
and couldn't upload it. After writing it, I checked out of my hotel.
During the checkout process, I asked the front desk (owner's wife) for
their phone number so I could tell people what a nice hotel they were.
She wouldn't give it to me.
"We don't have the license for accepting foreigners."
I pointed at the computer where I had registered the night before. "I
registered last night. There was no problem."
"Oh, the police called us in advance and said you were coming. They
said it was okay."
"No, really, there was no problem. I registered. It's a standard
system. Same all over China. There are no licenses required to allow
foreigners to stay in your hotel. Haven't been for nearly a decade."
"Yes there are.... the police told us so last year..."
So I told her about the night before. I told her about the incident
at the other hotel. I told her what the police said to that hotel's
receptionist when she brought up "not having the license to accept
"But the police told us..."
Came to the hotel and told them face to face. Nothing on official
stationery. Nothing with a chop. Nothing in writing at all. Told
all the cheaper hotels in town that they didn't have the license to
accept foreigners (inclusive of people from Hong Kong, Macau, and
Taiwan) and that they were required to turn foreigners away.
She hadn't asked how to get the license. Hadn't thought it was
necessary. But if she had asked, they wouldn't have been able to
answer her. The reason the cheaper hotels in town don't have that
license is the same reason the expensive ones don't. It doesn't
exist. You can't apply for a nonexistent license.
And when a problem came up with a hard headed foreigner who refused to
accept "get out", officers who very well may have been the same police
officers who went around town telling hotels "your hotel doesn't meet
the required standards for getting a license to accept foreign guests"
looked at that first hotel's receptionist and asked "who told you
there was a license required?"
This new information doesn't change the unacceptability of the way
that first hotel acted when I refused to leave but it puts a whole new
spin on things.
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