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No Such Thing as a Non-free Lunch

For the third time in as many days, we failed to pay for dinner. As we picked out the dishes we wanted, a casually well-dressed man shadowed us and entered the room we planned to eat in. No big deal. Such is the celebrity status afforded many foreigners in China. People follow you around and linger during otherwise uninteresting interactions. We thought nothing of him, until he intruded upon our conversation. Later he brought his 10 year old daughter into the room, and forced out of her improbably properly pronounced English. Despite ourselves, we were impressed.

Half-way through dinner, after he had made it clear he would by us dinner and we had invited he and his family to join us, dishes vied for space on the table. The sickening smell of baijiu lingered over the cigarette smoke and uncomfortable silences. The man, a Mr. Chen, boss of the karaoke bar opposite and owner of various other establishments, explained the excessive ordering. “There is a Chinese saying,” he noted, “‘Anyone with a full stomach cannot be homesick’”. The piles of food before us represented his small effort at assuaging in us whatever homesickness might remain there, despite our feeling quite at home wherever we were.

Mr. Chen’s 10 year old daughter rolled her eyes, heaved a huge sigh, and sank her head down on the table. I couldn’t blame her. For the whole evening she had been explaining in perfect Mandarin what her father and her father’s friend and their Southern, baijiu-affected accents had failed to get across to us. And now he entreated her to yet another irksome task: singing. In lieu of trekking across the street to her father’s place of business, for what would surely extend to hours of singing Chinese songs (difficult for the two of us who can’t read characters) and probably more drinking, we had compromised by trading a few songs around the dinner table. After a rousing performance of “10 Little Indians”, FBR followed with a slightly more complex if not earnest rendition of “Out of the Woods”.

After that we called it a night, only to find our hotel crawling with policemen. We spent a not interminably long but tense hour filling out the official but hardly ever conformed to paperwork to register foreigners every night they stay anywhere in China. Even though everything was in order, they asked us where we worked in Beijing, where were we going, claimed we couldn’t bike all the way to Hong Kong by the time our visas expired.

I in turn asked them why they checked the passports for all the foreigners, suggesting that perhaps in a few years, what with the inevitable increase in foreigner traffic, they would soon tire themselves out with such activities. The nicer, older officer got quiet and nervous, and looked down, but the younger more truculent officer forged ahead with his paperwork, glancing, annoyed, at his watch throughout the evening. Though I felt like pointing out a that an excellent way to avoid waste time collecting information on foreigners was to not collect it in the first place, I held my tongue.

After the departure of the police, Mr. Chen dropped by the hotel. Though his pronunciation had not improved during the evening, he made me to understand he was none-to-impressed with the local authorities. I must admit that earlier we were all slightly annoyed at Mr. Chen’s generosity. We wanted a quiet dinner, by ourselves, without the pressure (almost constant in the past two days) to speak to and entertain large crowds of people. Thanks, however, to the meddlesome nature of the local law enforcement officials, I think we were all reminded of the value of positive interaction. Interaction with people who like you and don’t want you to do paperwork will always be superior to those who don’t like you and do have papers needful of filling out. Thanks, Mr. Chen.

9 Responses to “No Such Thing as a Non-free Lunch”

  1. Netzy Says:

    Thanks for the phone call this am, Jim. How many police were there????? I am hoping that you all stay together and do not let anyone separate any of you - ever…. love and be safe - your mom

  2. Jo & Dean Says:

    Hi Jim,
    I wish now I had remembered to give you one of my “Get Out of Jail Free” cards from the Monopoly game when we last saw you - in case your paperwork isnt up to date. Hopefully, you wont have to deal with the registration paperwork too often…. Sever
    Hi Jim (from Jo)
    Good and safe wishes to you all. Keep up spreading kindness and respect - - - you are making the world a better place. Jo

  3. Dan Says:

    Great Post Jim,

    It’s been fun following the journey thus far.



  4. Autumn Says:

    Johnny Cakes,
    What are you doing in the photo that adam took where some gentlemen are filming you?

    Thank your lucky stars everyday that you don’t work for corporate america :-)

    although…i just spent $30 on a planner with company $$…seems it could go elsewhere…sOOO much $$ goes to waste on dumb stuff…it’s sOOOOO messed up.

    Love looking at pics and reading your blogs.


  5. Tommy O'Keefe Says:

    Well, certainly not your first run in with the police Jimmy. Remember that time I had to come and bail you out of jail at 3 AM after you were out carousing all evening? Actually, I’m kidding, I just wanted to get a rise out of Netzy who faithfully reads the blogs and comments.

    Ride hard young lad,

  6. Netzy Says:

    Tommy you got me…. you and Jim…. when are you and your wife coming to visit us and Yellowstone park???I love looking and reading all the stuff these riders are posting - you stay out of trouble too, or I shall haunt you in your dreams. love you. N
    Jimmy I rode the bozeman hill - trying to get in shape to ride with you …. maybe…

  7. Autumn Says:

    JImmy!!! You’re planning my social life from across the OCEANA…wish you could be here to join me in the fun!!
    Thanks for the info on Cedar Cultural Center…definitely going.

    Also, Charlie Parr next week!! YAY

    I have pictures of you in my CUBBY…so i hope you feel VERY special :-)

    Love and miss you bunches!!

    p.s. HOW do i get a hold of KEI???

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  9. Tommie Swelt Says:

    Thank you for fighting the good fight on our behalf!

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