Looking Communism in the Eye and Scared to Blink

By , Anchorage, AK
“You might not want to pack your hat.” I remember my mother advised me the morning our plane took off. I was doing last minute packing, and I thought I was being smart by packing my warmest Norwegian hat, the one with the flag of Norway knit into the design. “Why not?” I asked her. “Well I was just reading off the internet about this man they gave the Nobel peace prize to in Norway. He’s a Chinese man who is a dissident and was put in prison. Apparently China has eliminated everything about it on the news and internet. Only the most powerful men in the country know about him. The rest of China doesn’t even know he exists.” I stared at her confused. I knew China was ruled by Communism, and I’d heard enough to know it was a bad thing, but I didn’t understand why this man was in jail. “What did he do?” I asked. “Spoke against the government. They don’t have freedom of speech there. He was talking about human rights and they threw him in jail.” She answered. I looked down at my hat again, and put it to the side. “Baby our cabs here, we better get going.” I zipped my bag and grabbed my carry on. Got in the cab, and headed on my way to China, not entirely sure I knew what I was getting into anymore.

The Beijing airport was crowded and full of officers. Each one yelling at people passing, and pushing people out of their way to get closer to someone else to yell at. I stuck close to the group and held my breath as a government official argued with himself over whether it was me in the picture on my passport. My hair was different, and my face had changed dramatically, eventually I got past. As a group we got on the bus that would take us to our hotel, and I was overcome with a whole different fear of traffic. There was no such thing as a personal bubble here in China and that applied to cars as well. Here, road rage was as easily come upon, as wheels on a car. When we got off the bus I took a deep breath and gagged on the sulfur smell. The air was heavily polluted. It was as if I was standing next to a sewer plant, or maybe it was just the manhole. When we got to our rooms I sat on the bed, looking for some comfort, to find that my bed was nothing more than a box spring.

When I got up and looked out the window I got my first look at what I had been expecting of China. I was yes is a fairly western city, but the pictures of Beijing had prepared me for that. I was located on Ghost street. A famous street in Beijing known for its immense amount of restaurants lining it’s edges, for what looked to be a mile in both directions. Lights blinked and glowed with Chinese characters I didn’t understand. It was dark out, and I desperately needed a shower, I knew I was expected to join the group for dinner in a few minutes. My mother was unpacking a few things, and getting ready herself. I just sat at that window. I thought about how many people I was looking at but couldn’t see. How many people were sweeping the streets in my line of sight? How many people were happy with their government compared to what they had before? How many of those people were just too scared to speak up for what they really believed? How many had, and were never heard again?

I’m supposed to spend two weeks in Beijing, and one week in Wudong. I have to say though, even though I find this city interesting, I want nothing more than to skip the rest of this portion of the trip and move on to someplace more rural, and lose the fear I feel crawling up my body and electrocuting my blood stream every time I see a guard with a really big gun look me over with critical eyes. I’m not always sure, are they checking me out, or deciding whether or not to ask me for my pass port because I stand out so much and could be a threat. Sometimes I feel like I’m being ridiculous and just paranoid, I should just get over this silly fear and enjoy the good parts of this trip; so I do. I look at the trees and as I walk through the Forbidden City I stand amazed that I’m looking at the throne room where the curtain that covered the true ruler for three generations ruled from, gazing upon the door knob she laid her hand on every morning, just looking at the gateway she never stepped past made my trip worthwhile. It was something truly amazing, and I embraced the culture fully, I almost completely forgot about the questionable ruling that governed China now…almost.

Tiananmen Square was right outside the exit of the Forbidden City. It was impossible to miss. I didn’t know what it was at first and blindly followed my group into it. I heard whispers of other tourists. “Wow, I never thought I would be here.” Said a woman to what looked to be her husband. “It’s almost eerie” I overheard a voice behind me in another group. I looked around. It didn’t seem so completely out of the ordinary from any other town square I’d seen. Nothing at all special, and it definitely didn’t strike me as eerie. Feeling like a six year old I asked my mother what was so important about where we were. Our tour guide didn’t say much about it, he just took some pictures and kept moving. “Well…I don’t know everything about it, but there were a bunch of sit in protesters who were doing peaceful protests, I’m not sure what about, but the government told them to leave and they didn’t. They shot them down and killed them. Right here in this square, about five years ago.” She told me. I looked around me again, and this time I noticed how many officers were surrounding and in the square. I estimated at least a hundred. They all wore frowns on their faces, as their eyes lingered from tourist to tourist.

From the beginning, ever since I put down my beloved Norwegian hat and got in the cab, I’ve been thinking about the collars the government in China put on their citizens. I’d been told about what they don’t have, like ‘freedom of speech’, and ‘a right to a trial’, the fact that they are not ‘assumed innocent until proven guilty’. They didn’t have any of that here, but it wasn’t until I went to my lap top and got on line did any of it really hit me. I just went to go look at some of the world’s current events to find Google News was blocked, the entertainment section wouldn’t show Adam Lambert’s photo, all video sites were unreachable, and youtube among them. Facebook had advertisements everywhere, but government regulations didn’t allow any of the links to pass. Gmail was tough but eventually reachable. Soon I just started looking up random things to see what was allowed and what wasn’t. I started thinking about school, and how ASD (Anchorage School District) had websites blocked as well. I soon came to realize that websites that weren’t blocked at my high school were blocked to the country of China. It was then that I realized that not only did these people not have a right to speak up; they also didn’t have the right to hear the words of the people who did.

I sat back in my chair that was clearly made for someone half my height, and looked out my window again. The sun shone brightly as it slowly started to set into the horizon of endless buildings. I knew that half way around the globe, up north, and sixteen hours back my hat lay in the glove box next to the door. The man that made it so I couldn’t wear that hat made a huge impact on the world because of what he said about his country, yet he is a mystery to his own country. The general public of China knows nothing about him, and he will die for speaking out for that specific group of people, and will only ever be heard by everyone else but them. Nothing he ever said about human rights will ever be taken into account by the humans he sacrificed himself for. The ironic poetry of it grasps me and plagues my thoughts. I can’t help but be slightly panicky. I know that the chance of my hotel room being bugged isn’t completely out of the question, and I know that my emails to friends could be being monitored. Anything is possible here, at least…anything besides freedom.





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