Today is another translated quickie from one of Ai Weiwei’s volunteers about a near miss with police who were searching for him. I wonder if sometimes the eternal anticipation and impossibility of finding a totally safe place to stay isn’t more draining than the moments when people actually do get arrested and have the names they collected destroyed in one way or another before they’re thrown back on the street. Anyway, the original post is here.
I came home from writing my diary at the net cafe around 11:00 at night, and the door of the guest house was already closed. I gave the landlady a call and she opened it for me, then I watched a little TV, washed my face and fell asleep.
I sleep very lightly, so if there’s any noise at night I can hear it. Probably around 3:00 A.M., I heard loud footsteps outside the door. At first my response was that it must be travelers getting into the guest house late, then I faintly heard:
“Whose lives in this room?”
The landlady said, “That is a husband and wife, they just got in.”
“And that one?”
This building was built facing the street, with the back facing a mountain; I was staying in one of three apartments on the third floor. Mine was the one facing the mountain.
At this time I started to feel something wasn’t right, I got up quickly and stood behind the door.
The landlady pointed to my room and said, “This is a man who has been here a long time helping us rebuild [the town after the earthquake last year], an engineer from Hebei.”
There was a loud noise, the people who lived across were unhappy: “What gives you the right to be checking rooms in the middle of the night? We obey the laws!” A group of people went back down the stairs without having opened my door, but for those few minutes, I was really nervous.
I didn’t know who it was outside, I just felt that it was dangerous and guessed that they had been looking for me. Before, I was continuously switching hotels, but this landlady was the one who I was most comfortable with, who I had the best relationship with. If my clothes were dirty I could take them to her place to wash them, and after they dried she would bring them back for me and lay them out on my bed. When I [first] met her, I told her, “If people come asking for information about me, such as my ID card number, you have the right to not show them.” She also knew that I had come for something being withheld [from the public] by the local police substation; she said “I know.”
Early the next morning, I went out for breakfast. Nanba Street is very short, around 100 meters in all, so when a stranger is on the street it is easily noticeable. When I had finished my meal and was heading home, the landlady came over anxiously and said, “Last night seven police officers came looking for you, they said they were looking for someone from Beijing who spoke Mandarin; they are checking all the guesthouses in Nanba. They were pianjing [片警, a common nickname for community police responsible for public order and security], I think they were looking for you.”
I said to the landlady, “It’s OK, I haven’t committed murder or arson or anything like that, moreover I speak Sichuanhua [Sichuan’s regional dialect]. Moreover, I’m not the same ‘me’ that I was last time I came here*, and this time I have a completely legitimate reason to be here, so ‘they’ won’t do anything to me.”
The landlady said, “You should still go, don’t put me in a difficult situation. I’ve already told the police you don’t live here.”
I thought that was true, I couldn’t implicate her, and more over she had already “saved” me once. Soon afterwards, I saw a bus out the window, quickly got my things together, and went to a place not too far from Nanba.
That night, the landlady sent me a text saying I had forgotten to bring my towel, and that in the afternoon men from the local police substation had come looking for me again, so it was fortunate that I left so fast.
*Although I understand the Chinese, I have no idea what he means by this. Perhaps I’m reading it wrong, or perhaps it requires some background information I’m not privy to. In any event, if anyone wants to take a stab at it, the original sentence is “因为我已经不是上次来南坝的我了…”