Monday, December 25, 2006
Showdown At The OK Corral
And by showdown, I mean assault and attempted battery. And by OK Corral, I mean a toll booth somewhere in Shandong Province. Here's the setup: I was being driven to the Jinan airport from Laiwu - reclining in the back seat, iPod at near-full volume, trying to stay relaxed before the sixteen-hour flight home. After what seemed like ages, it slowly dawned on me that we'd been sitting in the same spot for quite some time - which was especially strange considering that we were on an expressway. I snuck a peek out the window and saw that we were waiting at one of the expressway tollbooths.

Now, I know I have written about the frequent inefficiencies of Chinese systems, companies, and government organizations and it can sometimes take a while for the Chinese to get mobilized, but we had literally been sitting motionless (aside from the humming of the car engine) for about twelve minutes. If you think about sitting still in a car - or anywhere for that matter - for twelve full minutes, it really is a long time to have not moved so much as an inch.

I decided to sneak a peek out the driver's side window and managed to get a glimpse of a small bus two cars ahead of ours, parked next to the toll booth with two men OUTSIDE the bus, talking to the booth attendant. Suddenly, as if from nowhere, one of the guys flew into a rage, started pounding on the toll booth window (which, luckily, is made of plastic not glass) with his fist, and from what I could understand, began yelling obscenities at the woman in the booth. Since I was sitting two or three cars back, I could take in the whole picture of the toll booth security slowly descending on the guy from five different directions, SWAT style. I didn't know toll booths needed such heavy security, but I guess they have it specifically for instances such as this. The booth attendant (who was a tiny little twenty-something girl, by the way) was trying desperately - with both hands even - to hold her booth window closed as this enraged Chinese man tried to slide it open or smash it open, whichever he could accomplish first. Behind the angry man stood a posse of two other not-quite-as-angry (but still riled up) Chinese men. Honestly, I didn't realize that such heated disputes could arise from paying, like, a dollar-fifty to drive on a toll road. But, if nothing else, the guys had spunk.

Cars in front of and behind us began honking in frustration, as about fifteen or twenty minutes had passed by this point - and with no sign of progress and no way of getting into another toll booth line. The security guards - who were tiny little sticks with legs and looked like they'd be lucky to win a fight with a firefly - began yelling at the angriest of the bunch to back away from the nice booth attendant lady. I didn't even see weapons or anything, just walkie-talkies. Somehow, their walkie-talkies must've conveyed some sort of authority and finally, in a huff, Angry Man and his friends returned to their bus and drove off. I have no idea how or if the problem was resolved.

They seriously need reality TV in China. In the US, reality shows are about eating worms and living on desert islands. But Chinese reality could be TV entertainment all on its own.
posted by Rachel @ 8:45 AM  
THE WILD WILD EAST: Everything you never knew you didn't know about life on the other side.
In China, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups. The Chinese, who call this land "home," and the expats who migrate here. My name is Rachel. I am an expat. These are my stories.
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