My first trip to China was with a friend, Clara, and it was a tour—always a good way to make a solo initial trip—and she had two experiences I avoided: a massage at the strong, energetic hands of two Chinese women; then she lost the key to her hotel safe containing her passport and travelers’ checks—which cost her $200 US to get opened. (The fact that I can recall both experiences is due to that she couldn’t stop talking about them . . .)
On the first day in China—after surviving a hectic arrival in Beijing’s busy airport—our tour guide complimented us on our being such a great group. That same day, he changed his mind. And it was my fault. Our group went to visit Mao’s tomb, and I noticed a flare of papers flying through the air and some commotion. I decided it was the Falun Gong and I started toward the activity, camera ready to take a photo that I thought would be welcomed by the NY Times. Several others followed me, including Clara. As I looked through my camera lens, the only thing in sight was a tall, slender man in a blue uniform coming at me, with his forefinger extended as though to point me out.
I put the camera down. He grabbed it, threw it to the ground and stomped on it. He then grabbed my arm, and Clara’s arm. She began stuttering: Me Americano, Me Americano, Me Americano.
As we were dragged along, I tried to correct her, but the sight of a large brown bus that had just roared up, kept me quiet. I knew that if we were loaded on that bus…….and our guide had no idea where we were……this didn’t bode well. Another couple was pulled along with us. One of our group, standing at the edge of the plaza, ran to get our guide. He showed up, but my first thought was we were putting him in danger, too. Then someone else showed up—me still standing at the bottom of the bus step. They would have to drag me on board. Whoever the “someone else” was, he spoke to the guide (Clara and me still yammering at them, too) and our guide was involved. Somehow we were released. And continued our day’s tour, but everyone was a trifle upset. And, of course, I felt guilty, as I should have. Our guide never again mentioned how great a group we were.