Saturday, 17 November 2012

Unexpected Beijing hospitality

Beijing hospitality by joe with a camera
Beijing hospitality, a photo by joe with a camera on Flickr.

And now for something completely different. We were in the US recently (during the election, in fact) for the Geological Society of America annual conference. A grand time was had by all, with talks on everything from martian rivers to dodgy non-fossils. The meeting was in Charlotte, North Carolina - a nice place, and amazingly clean and quiet for a large city.

Anyhow, the fun really started on the way back, which is why we ended up in a hotel in Beijing. It's not often you get involved with a real-life kidnapping...

There we were in San Fransisco, ready for take-off, and all sorts of shenanigans start taking off (and therefore, not the plane). Lucy had got a seat right at the back of the plane, and they'd plonked me at the front, behind an Indian family, behind a Chinese family. But the latter was not a model of harmonious bliss, alas - I suddenly noticed that the teenage girl was struggling while being forcibly held down by a couple who turned out to be her parents. It took a moment to realise this, as you simply don't expect to see it, and least of all on a plane - it's sort of a Somebody Else's Problem, rather like spaceships in the park disguised as bistros.

By this stage the airline staff hadn't noticed either, although it was becoming obvious something really was amiss as the girl was now pleading for help while being rugby-tackled by her very anxious-looking mother; dad was just standing around looking shifty.

It turns out that the girl was l8, and a student in the US, and the parents wanted her to come home. Apparently she didn't agree, and had been beaten and forced onto the plane under threat of more force; she presumably had rather cleverly waited until somewhere where she couldn't be ignored before trying to get away again.

The end result was police coming aboard, and eventually dragging hysterical mother off the plane by her feet. After that, it was announced that one of the passengers had decided she didn't want to travel after all (the art of understatement isn't dead after all), but the plane was now free to go - and only an hour or so late.

It was quite a surreal experience, really, but just goes to show that this sort of thing really does happen. It may well be that the parents were fearing they would never see their daughter again, and we have no idea whether she even had a visa to stay longer. We don't know the story, only one of the concluding scenes. Were the protestations of having been beaten even true? The parents didn't speak English, so probably weren't aware what she's said. On the other hand, one of their arguments was that, "If we were in China..." - which of course they weren't, even if they were on a Chinese plane. Seeing something like this makes you really notice parts of a culture that are otherwise hidden. I don't know the true story, so I'm not going to judge anyone - but this does give one a new insight into the dynamics of family in China. Or at least, of one family.

On the plus side, we did get put up in a swanky Beijing hotel after missing our connection, and you don't mind anything when they have such cute little notices. Plus there's no breakfast on Earth like a Chinese hotel brekkie.

p.s. Hi John! Thanks for the comment on the previous post - we can't reply directly (blogspot blocked in China), but my email is my old acutipuerilis one - if you've not got it, it's on my recent papers.

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