Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Man Gets Josh Down...

Within 45 minutes of venturing out into the city today, I was detained by police.

I started the morning with a nice breakfast of french toast at my hostel after which, I left for a day of sight-seeing at the Forbidden City. I hopped on a bus, got off a couple stops early so I could walk and take some pictures.

I came to a big red gate. I can't find its name on the map, but it was guarded by seven men. Many people were taking pictures--Chinese and foreigner alike. In front of the gate was a small plaza, but people weren't allowed to cross off the sidewalk onto the plaza. Uniformed guards were at the entrance of the gate, and three men in less-official looking blue coats stood evenly paced at the edge of the sidewalk and the little plaza.

With that much police presence I carefully observed what other people were doing so I couldn't break any norms. I used my Canon to take some pictures of the gate and the flag flying in front. Then, over to the far side of the plaza, I heard an old man shouting at a old police officer. I put away my Canon and pulled out my point and shoot Fuji camera. I took a picture in the direction of the argument.

However, the zoom on the camera isn't anywhere near powerful enough to catch the police officer. Nonetheless, one of the blue-coat uniformed men stomps up and grabs my camera. I say, "What?"

He stomps away toward the police officer. I tell him to give my camera back and he says, "Sorry."

He hands the camera to the police officer, who is still in a shouting match with the old man. The police officer looks at me with anger and pulls out his radio and says a few words. He then begins fumbling with my camera--trying to see what was on it I guess.

As he looked over my camera, a few people who had been standing near me when the guard had grabbed my camera, came up and said something to the officer. I could tell they were trying to intervene on my behalf, but he shooed them away. A couple minutes passed and I heard a police van pull up behind me. Three police officers jumped out.

The old man continued to shout at the cop. The police officer handed my camera off to a young female police officer and then grabed the old man violently by the arm and shoved him to the two officers who had just come on scene. They grabbed him tightly by both arms and threw him in the back of the van.

Crap, I thought, that's going to me in a minute. The female officer talked briefly with the middle-aged one and turned to me, "You one way picture?"

I had no idea what she meant by that. "I don't know."

"May I have your passport," she asked. I reached in for my passport and handed it to her. I was suddenly glad that I had carried it--I got so used to not needing it as I travel around Korea. She handed my passport to the middle aged guy as she started looking through my pictures.

He started thumbing through my passport. I could tell he had no idea what the hell he was looking for. He didn't call my number in or anything. And its not like there's going to be a stamp in the passport that says, "This guy is dangerous." I thought briefly about being deported suddenly--not even given a chance to go back to my room and grab my things.

The middle-aged man and the woman exchanged a few more words. I didn't understand a word mind you, but based on their body language, I guessed something like the following was behind said:
Woman Officer: Why did you stop this guy?
Middle-Aged Officer: He took a picture of me arguing with the old
Woman Officer: There's nothing on this camera.
Middle-Aged Officer: Well, he looked like he was.
Woman officer looks at the male officer with a look of
frustration. She seems to be thinking that the middle-aged cop is ignorant
and wasting everybody's time with petty nonsense.

Then the officer turns to me and keeps saying slight variations of what she had told me previously, "You one-way picture stop."

Realizing that this was going nowhere and that I was in no real trouble I reached out my hand and said, "Can I have my things back."

She nodded and took my passport from the guy officer and gave me my camera and passport back. The whole experience was more annoying than it was scary. These Beijing cops better lighten up with the Olympics coming up in a few months.

I'm just glad they didn't find the anti-Mao literature I had hidden in my back pocket :)

Pictures coming tomorrow...

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