Travel Fiasco

Broken & Bungled in Beijing, 2

by Mark Kunzman

The lost paperwork.

(Catch up if you missed Chapter 1)

My friends Alex and Peter join us at Club Cargo, near the Houhai District. Besides being jam-packed and loud, there's smoke, bubbles, glow sticks, and multiple DJs. Eighties hairdos are in style along with tight jeans and T-shirts that say things like "Corn Dogs are Cool."

We settle at a table adjacent to the dance floor and Ling orders a slew of beers and a fruit plate towering with carved watermelon and cantaloupe. He puts his arm around me, shouting, "We have good time, no? The real Beijing!"

Peter and I make our way to the lobby, where it's quieter. A Lucy Liu look-alike passes by, slowing down as she hears us speak in English. "Are you American?" she asks me, smiling. "Come dance." She doesn't wait for an answer, just drifts into the crowd. (Despite a loving fiancée at home, I am still permitted to admire beauty.)

We go back in, drink some more. I'm on the dance floor when Lucy appears again. She winds her way toward me and is about five feet away when a Chinese man in a white tennis shirt appears between us, shouting and wagging his finger at me. Not sure what he is talking about, but figuring I should steer clear of Lucy, I shrug and turn back to my friends.

It's getting late, too late. Ling has left us. It is 3 a.m. and Peter has an 8 a.m. flight. I am signing my bar bill when someone yanks the pen out of my hand. Lucy is back. She writes her phone number on a napkin and presses it into my hand. Without a word, she disappears once more.

Who wouldn't be flattered? I turn to the boys, gloating and waving the napkin like a little flag. The bill is paid, and we're ready to go, but Peter, the true club kid among us, is still dancing. We fan out to find him. I see him near the VIP area and give an exaggerated wave to get his attention. Lucy, the man in white, and another girl sitting in a booth, are right behind him, staring at me. Weird. Peter leads the way toward the lobby. I turn and follow.

I'm halfway down a set of stairs when someone grabs my shoulder and spins me around. The next thing I know, I'm falling backwards. I don't remember the punch that sent me flying, but I went down hard. Dazed, I feel a couple people dragging me away; club security guards, dressed like riot police, pull me into a back office as I yell for my friends.

The boys are rounded up and the looks on their faces reveal the condition that my face is in. Confusion is mounting, and though I keep saying "I'm fine," I'm anything but. Alex, always cool, takes Ling's number from my wallet. The security guards call the police. Ling arrives just in time to see the four of us piled into a police van. He follows us to the station.

At this point, the details get hazy. I'm drunk and my face hurts. I've yet to find out my nose is seriously broken and my lip is split wide open. I do know my favorite Ben Sherman shirt is covered in blood. While we wait in the police station lobby, reality begins to sink in. I'm injured and bleeding. I'm in China. I'm in trouble. Warren Zevon lyrics pop into my head. Send lawyers, guns, and money — dad, get me out of this.

Ling shows up to translate just as Peter leaves for the airport. The rest of us are kept for questioning. Eventually, I am sent to a hospital to have five stitches put into my lip — though I won't let them touch my nose. I am an ENT's son, and I'd rather not have the most prominent feature on my face messed with. Alex is still at the police station when we get back from the hospital around 9 a.m. They had questioned him and determined he was innocent enough to be left sleeping in the station lobby.  

Head throbbing, I sit slouched in the police station waiting room, across from a Chinese man who looks like the Nazi from Raiders of the Lost Ark, the one who burns his hand on Marion's medallion. Turns out he's Chow Chun, my assailant's childhood friend. With him is a pretty Chinese woman, Lei. She is my assailant's wife. She is not Lucy from the club.

After awhile, the police want to speak to me. Ling translates, explaining that my assailant has already given his statement. The police think I am to blame. According to the man in white, I groped a girl and took a swing at him. He had no choice but to hit me, and I am the one who may face charges.   

The investigating officers want to see the hospital paperwork, which we had already turned in to the desk clerk. A little time passes, and I'm told they have "lost" the paperwork.

"This is their trick," Ling says. "The paperwork is always lost."

Ling has to go back to the hospital and get another copy. I stay behind for questioning, a difficult procedure given my inability to speak Chinese. Then I am released to nap in the lobby with Alex.

Ling returns a few hours later and hands the paperwork over; it's promptly lost again. But this time Ling has five more copies. The police department's shell game is not going to work.

They now want my passport, which is in my hotel safe. I'm not allowed to leave the station, so my friends volunteer to retrieve it. In the meantime, I'm put into a hot, windowless room so that Chow Chun can't attempt to communicate with me. They do not want us to talk.

After a few protests, they allow me back in the lobby, where I sit next to a Björn Borg look-alike named Rafael. He's there because a taxi driver stole his suitcase. He has his own translator. He lets me use his phone to call my fiancée. It is midnight for her — which means noon for me.

Rafael's translator chats with Chow Chun and Lei. He proceeds to tell Rafael that they want to offer a small amount of money for my troubles, about 20,000 yuan or $3,000.

"This is how things work here," Rafael explains. "They will agree to pay you off. They will promise you 20,000 yuan, but then they will stall and stall until you get tired of fighting for it and go home. They have probably already paid the police to stall. Nobody wants to deal with you. They just want you to go away." I ask him what I should do.

"Tell them to pay you 80,000 yuan. Tell them that you will have lots of medical bills and hotel fees. Just get the money up front."

I do the math: 80,000 yuan converts to about $10,000.


Broken & Bungled in Beijing: Chapter 1 and Chapter 3
Check back for the next installment, which involves stalling, bribery, and scare tactics.

We make every effort to ensure the information in our articles is accurate at the time of publication. But the world moves fast, and even we double-check important details before hitting the road.