Chapter 10 – China Adventures

Chapter 10 – China Adventures

Postby Tom Jeffries » Mon May 06, 2013 6:49 am

The flight to Beijing, from Hong Kong, was short and uneventful.

The Tourist swarms had not yet polluted Beijing, when I hit it, just before February 1990.

The City was shrouded in Fog, and after finding a hotel, that didn’t look like Joe Stalin had drawn up the plans, I decided to take a walk in Tiananmen Square, and see what all the fuss was about.

When I stepped out of the Orient Hotel, I waited for the cabs that seemed to have become scarce, and so I tried to get my bearings.

That’s when I noticed a sharply dressed young woman, on the curb, about 75 feet from me.

She looked out of place. I wasn’t staying at the best hotel in China and here was this well turned out young woman, trying to look busy. The antennae went up. I have maybe read a few too many spy novels, but I had a feeling about this babe.

The taxi pulled up – and I jumped in and asked in perfect English” Tiananmen Square, please”. The cabby hit the flag and we were off.

It was about 10 minutes and the street was quiet at 9:00 in the morning. Yes, I saw large Zhil limo’s with the curtains, no doubt hustling some Government hotshot to his posh gig, or some factotum to the Country’s seat of Government, but really, except for an army of street sweepers with long willow brooms, it was dead as my bank account.

The Square, that had made the headlines in the Eighties, was exactly as I had imagined it. Humungous and dominated by the Pagoda like architecture and a huge glaring picture of Chairman Mao. I took out my disposable camera and snapped a few pix. (Disposables are a lot cheaper than a great camera, and if it was stolen, it wasn’t the end of the world. The lousy pictures were a trade off I was happy to make. I like to travel light, and I shed everything down to the basics. That happens when you travel a lot. You become fed up being a packhorse and it is a lot simpler.

As I was wandering though one of the gates off the square, I caught site of that same young woman, I had seen an hour earlier.

I am a little dim – but the light went on. This woman was following me. Could she be from The Secret police, or whatever? I had made a stupid mistake on my Passport – and said Journalist. That will raise a red flag in a Country like China. I was paying the price. I decided to see what was going on.

Now, I am a converted smart Alec, and make the Cowardly Lion look like Mike Tyson, so I was kind of feeling squeamish, as I walked towards this lady.

She was about five foot and a hair, and dressed in western syle close, with a purse over her shoulder.

“Do you speak English, Ma’am”, I said very politely, after making eye contact. She hesitated and said in a very good English – “yes, I do”.

I smiled and said “ May I enquire as to why I have the feeling that you are following me, and have been since I got off the plane.?

She looked deep in my spinning eyes and said – “Yes, I am”, and you best get your taxi”.

This was a shock. She came right out and told me.

I had journalist on the Passport, because I was being snotty - and thought Broadcaster would be even more ‘out there’, as I planned to try Tibet and come home through India and Pakistan, and heading out to parts Chinese. Now, here I am with an ‘escort’ and I am a nobody.

It must be a large office! The number of people that go to China in the late Eighties is a fraction of the traffic now. I can only imagine how many young folks, spend their days, wandering behind Tourists and listening in on their cell phone calls. Don’t be naive, if you don’t think this stuff never happens.

I learned in Mexico that ‘ the rule of law’ is usually colored green. It also was good practice to stay the hell away from anything illegal, or even remotely illegal. The British call it getting ‘banged up’, and I had never been in a real jam – I sure wasn’t about to now. China was always an enigma to me, and it has transformed itself in the last twenty years, so I hesitate to draw any more conclusions. I stayed in Beijing – took the Great Wall Tour and then flew on an Ilyushin to Shanghai.

I had read a lot about China during my years, and I always promised myself that I would see “The Bund”, in Shanghai. It truly is one of the World’s greatest cities.
(Mind you - the pollution was unbearable when I was there and has only gotten worse).

The filth and smells of China are still in my memory banks. It was Not a place I liked in any way. I was always a ‘freak’. Taking the bus, I would get stared at. Standing on the street, waiting for the bus, earnest young Chinese would sharply address me, in a polite way, in stilted English and ask if I was an “American”. “No, I am Canadian”. The stare. If the speaker knew where that was I was usually asked something like; “Do you know Jun Yung in Toronto”.

I guess when you are one of 1.2 billion – a country of 37 million is kind of small potatoes, er’ durian. I have got to stay Asian here.

I find that China made me aware how rare I was.

There are far more brown and black people than us blue eyed Celtic/Viking/ French cross around. It made me feel small. And I was starting to realize that I had to change my plans and fast. I was running out of money and time.

The Spring was starting, and I had heard that the good weather meant a lot of yachts, were going to be moving. The yachts that have been in Thai and Malay work yards were ready to be ferried all over Asia and beyond. I had my ticket and log book with me, and figured out a way to help with the wallet. My next check from my Grandfather’s estate was two months away. I headed to Phuket, and then to the Yacht club.

I was having a Singha at the bar and listened to the sailor talk and tried to look nonchalant. I struck up a conversation with a Brit, sitting a table across from the tiny bar.
He was about 50 or so, and you could tell by the squint that he was a big miler. I always admired REAL men of the Sea. I am a weekend sailor and I had never really done much more than take drunk tourists out of Zihuatanejo Harbor – and never ferried through Pirate filled waters delivering a boat worth hundreds or sometimes, millions of dollars. It was not for the faint of heart. Now there are more international companies that ship the yachts in containers, but back in the day – owners would save money and get their yachts moved, while they were back in the Vatican ripping off some parish in Paraguay.

I asked Gerry, or (“Gerald” as he liked to be called), was a Mancunian, ex – Brit Navy Lt. He was bumming the trail too, and we liked each other right away. He got a kick of the news that I had lived in England when I was a pisher, and so we had a few and decided that dinner would be a great idea. He already had a steady gig. He was running bare yachts for finally fix up in India, Chennai to be exact – and he would ferry from Phuket and also Penang Island. Ah, this was no small potatoes gig from the ‘what can happen’ side of the page. This is an area that is famous for pirates. That’s right. They ride zodiacs and water jets and bounce yachts at night and that’s all she wrote. That meant that all of the yachts in that part of the world ran ‘hot’. That meant armed. “Oh sure we kept that quiet”, said Gerry – but we have an Ak-47. “You know how to use a Rifle”? I had done some time with a few weapons, and was comfortable with the AK. Matter of fact, the one we had in Mexico was a beautiful weapon. It never jammed, and I liked the distinctive ‘chunk’, when you dropped off some rounds. That was only part of the equation. Gerry was blunt “Could you shoot someone”, he said, not taking his eyes off me. I felt like a snake and the mongoose.

“If it’s them or me – I can do it, I believe I can, anyway”. I am a God fearing non-denominational biped. That sums me up and I respect all religions, God doesn’t give franchises, but I have always tried to follow the Ten Commandments (with limited success in some areas).
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Re: Chapter 10 – China Adventures

Postby Tom Jeffries » Sun Sep 01, 2013 2:16 pm

*Please one small addenda to my Chinese adventures.
If you have never travelled out of North America, this broad shouldered land - and ventured into Countries where the population dwarfs ours, it’s really hard to explain the feelings I had in China.
China made me feel like a grain of rice.
You have to be on a train platform and fight your way onto a train, in Beijing, or Delhi, or Mexico City, to know what I mean.

The ONLY irony>? In China, you knew you were not going to get robbed. ( By way of contrast -*In Paris - my favourite place, Les Gendarmes make sure Tourists are reminded to watch the valuables, at all times).
In China - the hassle of people wanting to practice their English, etc. was small potatoes.
I want to make it clear that I was treated with great kindness - even by the treatment of the ‘minder’.

She was just doing her job.

I have a TON of great memories of the kindness’ extended me in that Vast Country.
I would hate you to think I was treated ill. Far from it.
Just too many people for a shy guy like me.
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Re: Chapter 10 – China Adventures

Postby PMC » Mon Sep 02, 2013 6:27 pm

Thanks for the story and the tip on how to get a free tour guide... I am planning to visit Beijing etc.
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Re: Chapter 10 – China Adventures

Postby hagopian » Mon Sep 02, 2013 7:24 pm

I wonder if the Government will bother you, unless your make it (Like I stupidly said on my Passport) clear your are in the media, will you have any surprises.

China 1990 is NOT 2013, so no clue what things are like now. Have a great trip and try and get out of the big city.

One other tip - when you cross borders - border guards can make your life hell by refusing entry, for whatever reason. Say nothing and if asked anything, be polite and honest, to the nth degree.
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Re: Chapter 10 – China Adventures

Postby Jack Bennest » Mon Sep 02, 2013 7:39 pm

So Hag - did you and Tom travel on the same flight?
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Re: Chapter 10 – China Adventures

Postby PMC » Mon Sep 02, 2013 8:38 pm

hagopian wrote:I wonder if the Government will bother you, unless your make it (Like I stupidly said on my Passport) clear your are in the media, will you have any surprises.

China 1990 is NOT 2013, so no clue what things are like now. Have a great trip and try and get out of the big city.

One other tip - when you cross borders - border guards can make your life hell by refusing entry, for whatever reason. Say nothing and if asked anything, be polite and honest, to the nth degree.


Know a dude born and raised there... we met online 10-12 years past, same business interests etc. When I want to know the truth of what's happening vs the american propagada, I ask him ;-)
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