Sunday, April 20, 2003

Road Block

I am not certain yet as to what he did wrong. I don't even know his name. But he drove a little pedal taxi that I was in. It's like a surrey, but rather than a horse pulling it, it is powered by a man on a bicycle. I had been riding with Ben and Bess in one such vehicle. We'd come from the cloth market to the wet market. Picked up some soy beans at the wet market and went to the bank, changed money and then to the grocery store. Stopped after the grocery store at the travel agent and then to the hospital. All of this was done in a cold rain.

The driver looked like a young man who could have been a physician or a banker if things had happened differently in his life. But for whatever reason, he was our transportation. I watched him from the back as he took us around. He had a few holes in the legs of his trousers. He wore the Chinese black cloth shoes, and he just looked cold. This was especially true after the chain came off the bike and he worked on it in the rain while we shopped in the grocery store. We had bought charcoal and lighter fluid, since we wanted to barbecue some things for our lunch. When we came out of the store he had just finished putting the chain right, and he washed his hands in a mud puddle and took us to our next stop. We paid him well and asked him to come again at 4 o'clock. He came to take me for a hair cut.

As we crossed a main intersection, he did whatever it was. A policeman came from nowhere and told him to stop. The officer was anything but polite. The driver on the other hand, was groveling. He was bowing and scraping. All but kowtowing. Then I was seen. The police (reinforcements had been beckoned) told me to get out. It was obvious that whatever they had in mind to do to the driver, couldn't be done with me right there watching. I knew what they wanted, but must admit that I did not understand 100% of their sentence. The meaning was obvious, but so were the consequences. So I smiled and told them that I did not understand. Now the first officer told me in English to get out. I thanked him but pointed down a side street and said that I wished to go there, and if I got out here, I wouldn't be at my destination. They argued with me, but I, remembering that it takes two to tango, said nothing, but just smiled at them. The driver, knowing that this was his chance, tried to excuse himself as he began a U-turn. The second officer grabbed the handle bars and tried to keep him from turning. The driver now became very afraid, but his fear was not of disobeying the officer, but of obeying. It looked as if we were going to loose whatever the battle was.
I sat there thinking about the day as these two were wrestling over control of the direction we should take.. Twelve persons had died in Hong Kong of SARS today. Highest number in one day yet. And today SARS had officially entered Hangzhou. Three persons returned from Beijing, bringing it with them. And now here I was with this poor driver who was the victim of a couple of officers who didn't have justice in mind. Why not get involved. I could do more than just sit. So, I shouted at the officer. "Let Him GO!" For some reason, this was not only unexpected, but also unwanted. Lots of bikes stopped and everyone was now watching the policeman. I shouted once again. And then the first officer shouted in Chinese and the second officer let him go and we took off (in the wrong direction).
It took longer to get to the barber than expected, since we had to go the long way, but I think the driver is a friend for life.


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