This one in from out Far East Correspondent Response.
I spent a year in Dongguan China. It’s a very chaotic but fun and bicycle friendly urban town. I then moved to the spacious and bland suburbs of Huizhou. Unfortunately, because of long distances and rampant bicycle theft, motorcycle taxis are often more convenient than bicycles to get around there. Little 150cc motorcycles piloted by half crazy, sun darkened guys that will take you almost anywhere in town for around 80 cents US is the norm.
On a sunny July 4th Sunday, I was probably the only person in town who gave a rat’s ass that it was the USA’s birthday. About 4:00pm, I headed to the massage parlor at a local hotel to celebrate Independence Day with satisfying 2 hour rub, manicure and pedicure. The whole deal was complete with cold beers for less than $20 US. Afterward, I was completely relaxed and enjoying a motorcycle taxi ride home in the humid summer breeze. There is a long scenic 1km stretch near my home where you can pick up speed. On either side of the raised one lane road, you can see lakes, streams, rolling green hills, little farm plots, grazing cows and there is almost no traffic. The smell of trees, flowers and fresh water filled my nose as we putted along.
Just as my driver opened up the throttle, I felt a vicious tug on my messenger bag and our motorcycle wobbled dangerously. I looked to my left and was surprised to see that just inches from me were two boys about 17-18 years old, riding double on a motorcycle. One of the boys had a double fisted death grip on my messenger bag. His eyes were wide and his hair was wild, his teeth clenched with effort. I don’t think the boy realized that my messenger bag strap is heavier and stronger than a car’s seat belt and is almost unbreakable, or the fact that I weigh 220 pounds.
My first thought was to simply allow the boys to have the bag and avoid an accident, but was not an option as the strap was pulled tight against my neck. My second idea which I acted upon was to let loose a vicious left backhand. My wrist connected solidly with the kids head. Painfully I drew back for a second hit, however the first adult dose must have changed the kids mind as he suddenly let go of my bag. Then all hell broke loose. My taxi driver lost our balance and pitched us on our right side to the cement road at about 35mph.
I tumbled to a stop a few feet behind the motorcycle. My messenger bag was lying next to me. I rolled to my feet and watched the boys riding away. The boy that I had smacked was looking back at the scene with a curious look on his face. Was it disappointment? Of course like most of the local bikes, they had no license plate.
I looked around and found my driver. He had slid off the road into an ugly 3 foot deep cement rain gutter. He was crumpled up like a rag doll and out cold. I hopped into the ditch, picked him up, and carried him onto the road and laid him out straight. He was fucked up! He hadn’t been wearing a helmet. I hastily made sure he was breathing and then reassembled the skin on his head. I looked up and saw that there was a now growing group of local folks. I looked at the crowd imploringly and yelled for help in my best Chinese. A few guys responded by pointing at their cell phones that were pressed to their ears. I looked around and to my horror, I saw a little girl lying face down on the road next to the wrecked motorcycle taxi. WTF? How did she get tangled up in this mess?!?!
I checked her out. Her face was caved in but she was breathing and moaning but incoherent. Moments later, a police van raced by us, its lights were blazing and its sirens wailing. The cops were headed in the same direction that the would be purse snatchers had fled. I hope they catch those fuckers! Little did I know…
In the US, this kind of emergency would have warranted a helicopter ride.
However, that doesn’t happen here. After about 20 minutes of tense waiting, a shoddy ambulance arrived and helped me to load the two unconscious locals into the back. After a seemingly casual, hour long drive into downtown Huizhou, we arrived at the “emergency room”.
The hospital was a stinking, crowed, dirty nightmare. Wounded people, family members and “vultures” were all contributing to the chaos. A dumpy fat woman started speaking to me in English. She ushered us into another filthy and crowded triage area where they laid the two locals onto nasty, bloody beds. The woman started asking me what happened, so I gave her a thumbnail explanation. The fat lady sighed with seeming discontent then continued asking a million leading questions. WTF?!?! I didn’t like the way things were going. She asked me for my license and registration for the motorcycle. I explained again that the bike wasn’t mine, that I was a passenger. Also, I had no idea who the hurt girl was. Then a big beefy guy dressed in a short sleeved shirt in all casual black duds swaggered in and started barking at me in Chinese. I asked the fat bitch who the fuck this guy was, she looked at me squarely and said, “We are the police”.
Upon the big cop’s request, I carefully began telling him and fatty the story from the beginning. The big cop cut me short with a vicious laugh. He called me a liar and then shoved me heavily against a wall. He snarled that they had just gotten fresh statements from the locals who claimed that there were no purse snatchers. He leaned into my face so I could smell his shit breath and said in broken English “If either of these people die, you are a murderer, we go to jail and talk now”.
I had heard stories that finding eye witnesses in China are tough, this seemed to prove that rumor. No one wants to get involved. I realized that I need to get the fuck out of Dodge and find a lawyer FAST. No one had told me I was under arrest, but I could feel it coming. This was extortion, or some kind of scam. The cops had me by the balls and they knew it.
At this point, a young guy with a pair of thick old man’s glasses perched on his nose came in and asked everyone in the room who was going to pay for treatment for the two injured locals. No one volunteered to pay, just silence. I knew that they have a “no money, no honey” policy at the hospitals around here. They will literally throw your dying ass in the street if you have no funds. This can be a deadly deal if you are alone, injured and unconscious or simply poor. I raised my hand and said “I will pay.”
To my relief, “Mr. Glasses” led me out of the room, leaving the cops behind, talking furiously amongst themselves. There were about 20 cops outside the door and another few dozen in the hall on the way to the payment office. I asked Mr. Glasses if they took credit cards to which he replied “of course”. I slapped down some plastic and excused myself to the bathroom.
I decided that escape was the only option now, so I nervously looked for an escape route from the hospital. I carefully faded out the back door of the hospital since the front door was crawling with cops. Since there was no rear exit, I was forced to climb a couple of 10 foot chain link fences while with a mangled foot while wearing my road shredded flip flops.
I ran across a big park to a well lit street behind the hospital. Of course the street was crawling with cop cars. I fought hard to remain calm and I luckily managed to hail an automobile taxi cab. The driver looked at me and my extremely bloody clothes with a raised eyebrow. He then commanded me to get out of the cab, but I changed his mind by producing a fat wad of bills. Reluctantly, he asked, “where to?” to which I replied, “Hong Kong”, which is around 100 miles from Huizhou. The cab driver slowly pulled away from the curb while cursing out loud about this crazy white devil.
It was now past midnight and I was slowly headed on a long, lonely road south toward the HK border. I called my Chinese landlord and asked him what I should do. He told me that there were a dozen cops, the two local’s families and a massive lynch mob sitting outside my house waiting for me. He said that there was a rumor going around that everything was my fault, the two locals were dead and there was going to be hell to pay. I said nothing and hung up in a daze.
My landlord had confirmed my suspicion that I needed to get the fuck out of China and fast! I had my passport, but I realized that the cops had my name and probably my credit card as well. Crossing the border into the relative safety of Hong Kong was going to be dicey. Had they flagged my passport? Also, my clothes and body were conspicuously bloody and I was sure to draw unwanted attention. Yet I needed to cross two international borders and pass hundreds of cops.
My stomach rumbled and I ripped a toxic, wet fart as I considered the idea of being apprehended, arrested, possibly tortured into a false confession and thrown into a crowded and dangerous holding cell without the benefit of much needed medical attention or the advice of a lawyer. The cabby growled in disgust and rolled down the window as the smell of my fear choked the cab’s interior.
I flipped through the numbers on my cell phone and found my American friend who lived near the border. It was past 2:00 am when he answered the phone. James didn’t ask many questions as he sleepily invited me to come over and clean myself up. I thanked James profusely for the solid and bee lined to his apartment.
After getting sort of clean and crudely bandaged I changed into long sleeves and clean long shorts to hide most of my wounds. I looked in the mirror and a sweaty, and light green, tired looking motherfucker looked back then winked at me. “The worse the trip, the better the story”, my reflection chuckled. “Yeah, fuck you too”.
What I really needed at that time was some booze, painkillers, rest, medical attention, a good lawyer, a helicopter ride accross the border, or to wake up and realize that this was all a bad dream. Any of the above in any order thank you. Instead I had a train to catch.
It was now early morning and the commuter traffic was really swelling in train station. I sweated and felt my wounds burn in the growing summer heat as I waited nervously for the first train of the day to arrive. Yes, China has many many many people. Crowded Chinese trains can be rude, pushy places. People were constantly bumping into me and stepping on my busted foot, causing me grit my teeth in pain.
The train took me to the international Chinese border of HK. It’s only a few hundred yards walk to immigration. I focused on trying not to limp or bleed or draw attention to myself. I then remembered that I needed to neatly fill out a departure card in order to leave China. With a jolt of horror, I looked at my writing hand which now was a shattered, bloody, swollen mess.
The departure cards are available at long steel tables equipped with shitty stainless steel ink pens that have very short chains attached to them. Under the casual observation of a couple of police officers, I used my left hand to wrap my ruined right hand around the cool steel government issued pen. As I stood there writing, sweat dripped from my forehead onto the departure card. I slowly and painfully scrawled my personal information and signed it. The departure card looked like a 4 year old had written it, but it was my best work and starting over was not an option that I was willing to entertain.
The moment of truth. After standing in the long line at the immigration desk, I handed my passport and departure card to the officer lady and tried to appear bored. She looked at my pale green, sweaty face and then at my passport, then her computer screens several times. She then raised her hand and called for a supervisor. I almost collapsed on the floor, the gig is up! The supervisor looked at my passport and then at my face. He walked away and came back with 3 officers who all looked at me and then my passport. The first officer lady told me to follow the other officers. They walked me a short distance towards the customs office and simply told me to wait. Eternity. Finally a guy who looked like a bossman because he had enough medals and boy scout badges to be a general, looked at my passport and then at me. He rubbed my passport picture with his fingers and then held out the passport to me. In perfect English he said “Joe”. I swallowed hard and could only manage a nod. He said “it looks like your passport has gotten wet and your picture is a little bubbled, no big deal but you might want to get it replaced”. No doubt, sweat had soaked through the passport as I carried it in my borrowed shorts pocket.
I smiled weakly and said nothing as I accepted the passport with my left hand. My heart dropped below 1000 bpm and I almost collapsed with relief. I straightened myself, got a Chinese stamp in my passport, staggered through customs with nothing to declare and then through HK immigration and customs without a hitch. I had made it! I felt a rush of triumph and then immense heartbreaking sadness for the injured locals that I had left behind.
With some help, I checked myself into a hospital in Kowloon hk . I was put to sleep as doctors spent 2 hours rebuilding my hand with steel pins and wire. Then they installed a big immobilizing cast on my right hand that should have kept me off of my bicycle for months. Also, they mercifully cleaned and dressed my other deep wounds while I was still unconscious.
I now understand that Huizhou is hosting the 2010 Asian games. That being the case the cops are extremely unwilling to file police reports regarding unsolved crimes against foreigners. It’s bad for their tourism business. Also it’s bad for the cops professional reputations as these reports create mountains of negative paperwork that find their way to the highest level government offices.
In the end, the girl that was injured received emergency brain surgery and four operations to her face. She will survive and recover with a long road of rehabilitation in her future. The motorcycle taxi driver got a mess of stitches and went back to cabbing within a few weeks. The police filed no criminal reports against the muggers or myself. The muggers were never found. After I paid some steep “fines”, the entire ordeal was officially chalked up to a traffic incident (my fault) and my name and passport were cleared. Total cost for medical, fines and BS almost $50,000 US dollars.
I’m back in the saddle in China and exploring as usual. Yeah, I’m some kind of nut.