Travel Fiasco: Broken & Bungled in Beijing, 3
by Mark Kunzman
(Catch up if you missed chapters 1 and 2)
I learn about the man who assaulted me. Zhao Jung Lu is ex-Chinese army. His friend Chow Chun works in the Communist Party and is "very connected." He confirms Rafael's suspicion that Zhao and his friends intend to stall until I give up.
The woman checking my record at the police hospital rejects my paperwork. She does not believe my nose is broken or my lip is split — despite the fact that my nose has moved to the left side of my face and my lip is a sutured balloon. They send me back to the hospital for x-rays not once, but twice, because the results are not to their liking. Poor Ling and I shuffle from desk to desk, collecting the endless sheaves of paperwork, each page completely indecipherable to me.
Back at the police station, now home base, detectives reveal a new development in my case: the club has come up with a surveillance tape, proof that I am the victim. What is more, they now have a signed confession from Zhao Jung Lu. They want me to press charges.
"No, no, no," I keep repeating. "I want to go home." I rejoin Ling, who confirms that Chow Chun will pay me 80,000 yuan to not press charges. Apparently, hitting an American in China is pretty serious, one that could mean years in prison. Another two hours go by as I sit on the steps, waiting to be officially released, waiting for a bag full of cash to appear, just waiting, not sure if I am doing this now out of principle, greed, or spite.
At this point, Ling's brother arrives with a short, stout, tough-as-hell man improbably named Donny. He has a scar on his nose that reminds me of Omar from The Wire. Chow Chun comes over to apologize, telling me that the banks are closed but they will have the money soon. The police officers are also circling, telling me to press charges. I have no sense of humor left. I have no patience. I hate China. I hate everything. I go back to my hotel.
I wake up Wednesday morning in a daze, my body sore all over. Chow Chun and Lei are in the lobby with a hired translator, my own personal Rosetta Stone named Belinda. I ask her for the money. Of course, they want to give me half now, half after I go with them to the high court with a letter exonerating my assailant. I agree to go with them to the high court in exchange for all the money up front. Lei hands me a paper bag containing stacks of 100-yuan bills. It is the largest amount of pink cash I have ever held since playing Monopoly as a child, how do I know it's not counterfeit? My friend Torren points toward the money counter at the front desk. For the next twenty minutes, the hum of bills sliding through the machine can be heard through the hotel lobby. I feel like Tony Montana in Scarface. The hotel staff watches intently. They have already seen me covered in blood and escorted by police. Now I have become a man of means.
It's time to head to court. As the hotel fades into the distance, it occurs to me that I have no cell phone, no friends at my side, no Ling. Three weeks ago I was dreaming of solitude and independence, and now I have it. At the new police station, Lei attempts to bribe an officer on behalf of Zhao Jung Lu. The officer takes the money and disappears. No surprise there. But we're done for the day. Chow Chun informs me he will spend the night at my hotel, lest I cut out now and leave Zhao to rot.
He uses our time together to brush up on his English. "I hope you feel better," he says, reading from a sheet of English phrases. Then, "Tonight, we go disco." I don't respond to that one. As we approach the lobby, Ling's brother and Donny start talking with Chow Chun. I meet up with Ling and my friends for a drink.
For the first time, Ling smiles. Apparently, when Ling saw Zhao's friends gathered outside the station yesterday, he called Donny to do a little re-con. Somehow, Donny struck up a conversation with Chow Chun, cleverly posing as an interested bystander. Chow revealed his plans to stall the American. Donny sits down beside me and I try to shake his hand. He presses my hand to his thigh and squeezes it. He smiles. That is a gun in his pocket.
I should mention that in China not even police are allowed to carry guns. Donny releases my hand, turns, and leaves. I never see him again.
I excuse myself from the table. I go to my room, pack my duffel bag and put it in Alex's room. I put my toiletry bag and a change of clothes in my backpack. Torren has the money in the safe in his room. Tomorrow, after I leave for the high court, Alex and Torren will check out and go with my bag to a different hotel.
My prolonged absence from the table makes Chow Chun nervous, and when I return, he is a more diligent shadow. He accompanies me as I use computer in the hotel's business center. He waits outside the stall as I use the bathroom. He tells me he will sleep in my room. But first, he wants to take us out for dinner. I don't have much of a choice. Chow Chun treats my friends and I to Da Dong, the best Peking duck joint in Beijing. He goes all out with liquor, dessert, and fruit plates. I am limited to eating soup with a straw, but actually have a good time. And a good night's sleep.
Next day, back at court: I am led into a barren room where two police officers drill me for an hour. Then, to my disbelief, they write down the terms of my bribe agreement with Lei and Zhao. I agree not to press charges in exchange for 80,000 yuan in compensation. I agree to not come back and ask for more money later. Zhao agrees to probation for the incident and to not contact me in the future.
They ask me to sign the statement, which is written in Chinese. I decline. "I'm not signing anything until I know what it says. I'd like my translator." I'm paranoid that this is all a setup. They finally allow Belinda in the room and I make her read every word to me twice.
Lei signs her part of the agreement, we press our thumbs into red ink, customary in Chinese contracts, and place our prints next to our signatures. If I had not signed, her husband would have been jailed for at least three years. Belinda tells me that, with all the paperwork that has to be processed, Zhao won't actually be released for about a week. Assuming no losses of documents, of couse. According to Belinda, Lei still does not know that this disaster involved her husband's mistress. Maybe she doesn't even know he has a mistress. I wonder how he will explain himself when he gets home.
I hug Belinda goodbye as Chow Chun hails me a cab. Freedom.
I meet up with my friends one last time. Ling trades my yuan into dollars. I treat everyone to a round of watches and a fantastic meal on a rooftop somewhere. I spend the next morning buying gifts for my nieces and nephew. Uncle Mark comes through no matter the situation. Security at the airport is easier than expected, considering I have $10,000 in small bills hidden throughout my luggage.
I settle in for the 14-hour flight back home. Sweet relief washes over me, and then a wave of questions. Will my nose ever look the same? How will I explain this to my fiancée? And when can I go back?