Tuesday, April 18, 2006

China girl

Today the company where my office is located had a certain visitor.

Yesterday, as I was leaving to meet Rob to go home, Chinese protestors had lined the main intersection on the Microsoft campus where I cross the street, and a very polite young woman gave me a pamphlet. I read it quickly as I scurried off, as you do, and became thoroughly unnerved and horrified by claims that organs are being harvested from imprisoned Falun Gong members in China while they're still alive. It sounds like a horrible movie, or that plot of Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go."

Today was the actual day that the president visited campus. Morning was pretty normal, except that Rob said he could hear helicopters flying overhead all day, and we would occasionally entertain ourselves by peeking outside and spotting what appeared to be SWAT team members wandering about in large groups. Then in the afternoon, traffic around the campus seemed to be coming to a standstill. I cut out to try and meet Rob at a building across the way. I was able to walk to a major campus intersection, near the freeway, but there I encountered barricades, polite but omnipresent protestors holding large signs in Chinese and English, vans with large signs claiming "The Chinese Communist Party Is Falling Down" (Rob couldn't help but hum that to the tune of "London Bridge"). And there were policemen everywhere, wearing patches from numerous nearby cities, none of them matching. Not only were they stopping auto traffic, but they weren't letting pedestrians cross the street either. One young kitchen worker became a little panicked when told she couldn't cross the street to pick up her daughter, but all the police would say was "Wait."

We didn't have long to wait. Rob and I happened to have attempted to leave campus almost exactly when the Chinese president, his entourage, and presumably, Bill Gates himself, were heading to Gates' Medina mansion for this fancy dinner. Suddenly the dozens of cops busied themselves, and shortly thereafter, about 20-30 cops on motorcyles from various law-enforcement agencies came roaring past. After a slight break, 20-30 more came.

Then we waited again, and all of a sudden, about 20 black vehicles -- limos, town cars, SUVs, and, scarily, two ambulances and one haz-mat van -- came tearing down the long street between Microsoft and the freeway. One car carried Chinese and American flags, and although Rob may be right that it carried the Chinese prez, I wondered if it wasn't a decoy car. I had an incredible view of the entire situation, and let me tell you, everyone behind a wheel of one of the cars in the motorcade, women and men, were dressed head-to-toe in black, had MIB style sunglasses, and were driving with a grim determination that would not have looked out of place in the Indy 500. They didn't look happy (though Rob said he saw one guy laughing and joking), instead they looked as if they were in the middle of a painful dental procedure and just had to grit through it. I can't imagine that driving in a controversial motorcade like that can be a lot of fun -- like the Secret Service, you've got to be ready for anything, and you've got to be uttering a silent prayer that nothing happens to the car you're in, or the other cars in your line.

Nothing happened. One of the protesters began yelling in Chinese, the same phrase, over and over, as the motorcade passed. It flew through the blocked intersection and onto the freeway and the long black line of cars was gone. While it passed, we all seemed to hold our breath, but once it was gone, things immediately started to be packed down and put away. The cops immediately broke down the barricades, the protestors immediately rolled up their signs, the kitchen worker got to fly across the street to her little daughter, wherever she was.

The world is an enormous and complicated place. I don't pretend to be an expert on politics of any kind, much less Chinese politics. But this little intrusion into my ordinary American world has certainly piqued my interest, and although I don't know how much it will help, I'm definitely inspired to learn a little bit more about what's going on in that faroff corner of the world. And I'm never, ever, going to drive a limo carrying any head of state. Too damn much pressure.


jam said...


I drove a car in a presidential motorcade that came through our city a couple of years ago. (I didn't actually VOTE for the president, but was I going to pass up the opportunity to be all Patriot Games? Hells, no.) It was very cool -- I was driving a press car, one of the cadre of vehicles carrying newsfolk and local dignitary types that follows the President's clump of vehicles.

We arrayed ourselves in a line at the airport and waited for Air Force One to arrive; that is an impressive aircraft. There were a couple of speeches on the tarmac, and then the President's entourage scattered into the cars. I was lucky enough to be the first in line behind the President's cars (a couple of decoy limos, THE limo, the Black Box heavily armored tank thing, and a couple of escort Suburbans -- all black, naturally) so I could see everything really well. We all peeled off the runway in perfect formation (very impressive, since those of us driving the "unofficial" vehicles had only practiced once).

Of course, the streets were all closed, so we proceeded VERY quickly along the streets and down the highways, in the middle of the road, with people lined up all along. It was so cool. Every time we'd get to an overpass or underpass, the black suburbans would swing out and flank the limos and when we were through, they would pull back into the line. At each venue where the President was stopping to speak, the whole line of us would roar into the parking lot and down into the heavily secured garage or loading area that was reserved for the motorcade, pretty much without reducing speed.

Anyway, it was very cool, even if I did wish it had been, you know, Bill as opposed to George.

jam said...

Meant to add:

Which is not to say that it wasn't also scary, because, hey -- President of the United States. Secret Service and code names (I wish I could remember what our car's code was, but I can't.) and walkie-talkies and instructions for what to do if something "happened" (answer: keep driving and do NOT attempt to leave the motorcade under ANY circumstances -- if you were first in line, to keep the radio on and follow the Secret Service's instructions EXPLICITLY).... But it was a very cool and exciting kind of scary.

Greg said...

I don't know if I would want to be in the same state as both of those people. Too much motivation for someone to do something unpleasant. Everytime I hear about the protests that go on around these people I hear some new and horrible reason why I should not like them. The organ harvesting thing is new. I just always assumed that horrible things were going on, I don't really need the specifics.

Anonymous said...

Hey Gael,

Yep there is a lot that most of the American public is not aware of.

Here are three such things to consider:

1. PBS recently did a story about the events leading up to and surrounding the incident in Tiananmen Square. One of the more interesting points came towards the end of the show when they interviewed some current students in China. They showed them pictures of the person known as "Tank Man" blocking the line of tanks trying to get through Beijing back in 1989. These kids had no knowledge of that little piece of Chinese history and were a bit surprised to be told that this had happened in their country.

2. Is the "bird flu" really a virus or is it the result of massive environmental poisoning on the part of the Chinese Governerment?

Take a listen to this interview:


"Bird Flu & Vaccines
Expert in alternative medicine and founder of OsteoMed II, Dr. Sherri Tenpenny shared an in-depth
look at vaccines and bird flu. She views bird flu as an environmental issue rather than a health
care crisis. In Asia, a variety of pollutants such as dioxin, pesticides and raw sewage in the
water supply can disrupt the immune systems of migratory birds and chickens and make them more
susceptible to the H5N1 virus, she explained. "

During part of the interview she discusses how China has been dumping nuclear waste since the
1950s, and these birds are wintering in China, and picking up extremely high levels of toxic
wastes, and then when they migrate back for the summer, they use up their stored fats and the
toxins take over and kill them.

China simply has no shame or ethics.

3. Lastly, do a little research into how AMERICAN internet search engine companies are co-operating with the Chinese government and helping them suppress the free flow in information. They are helping the Chinese track down and detain (and most likely torture)citizens.

America prides itself on free speech, yet American-owned companies are willing to set aside that ideal and partner up with the Chinese government (one of the most brutal regimes on the face of this planet) all in the pursuit of that other great American ideal -- capitalism and profitablity.

Here is a quote from this longer article ( http://usinfo.state.gov/xarchives/display.html?p=washfile-english&y=2006&m=February&x=20060215133254TJkcolluB0.2933008&t=livefeeds/wf-latest.html ):

"[T]wo of the most essential pillars that prop up totalitarian regimes are the secret police and propaganda," Smith said. "Yet for the sake of market share and profits, leading U.S. companies like Google, Yahoo, Cisco and Microsoft have compromised both the integrity of their product and their duties as responsible corporate citizens. They have aided and abetted the Chinese regime to prop up both of these pillars, propagating the message of the dictatorship unabated and supporting the secret police in a myriad of ways, including surveillance and invasion of privacy, in order to effectuate the massive crackdown on its citizens."

And also find out a little more about one of China's most recent detainees:


Gael, I know you talk about Pop Culture in America, keeping it light and enjoyable, and may not want to take you blog off in any other direction, but people like Bill Gates and organizations like Microsoft and all the internet search engine companies are doing a total disservice to the better of life on this planet by catering to and cooperating with people like Chinese President Hu Jintao.


Shar in Minneapolis

Kim said...

I left work early yesterday, and got to see the motorcade coming across 520...they'd closed it eastbound, and westbound had simply slowed to a crawl to gawk. You could gauge when they were coming by the flanking half-dozen helicopters curving overhead from Capitol Hill to the lake.

And then the dork in front of me stuck his arm out the window and waved frantically, so I did too. Limos! with flags on them! coooool! ...momentarily stifling the little voice in my head whispering "Communism...Tiannanmen...human rights..."

The other thing I thought, upon seeing the enormity of the entourage, the dozens and dozens of cops, was "Huh. '24' is kind of a crock." Heh.

Jen said...

Yikes! That sounds unsettling.

I heard about this on NPR, I'd forgotten you were right near there.

Anonymous said...

Now multiple that by Any Random Day and you get life in Washington DC. They always have to do it when you just had ten minutes between meetings to try to get across the street for a sandwich.

That Guy said...

I remember it vividly...it was a Friday or Saturday night, and my wife and I had rented a cheesy video ("Red Heat", with Jim Belushi and Ah-nold, ironically enough), but instead of watching that we sat up all night in our tiny little apartment, watching the Tiananmen Square coverage on TV in outrage and disgust. Watching Dan Rather wrestling with the Chinese government to keep broadcasting was one of those TV Moments I'll never forget:


And, of course, who could forget Tank Guy: