Deserter in June

That year, also in June, I was working for one of the three major American media companies based in Beijing. It was an eventful spring. It started at the beginning of the year with the visit of President Bush Sr. to China and then the death of the China communist leader ...... By one night in early June, the eventful spring was finally marked with a huge exclamation mark, and an even bigger question mark.

I was still a Chinese citizen at that time. The next morning, I was busy looking for my boss: I couldn't stay in the danger place, I wanted to resign, I wanted to wipe my feet and leave.

I didn't realize that my boss was looking for me too. He said that there was one of our Australian cameramen and his British recording assistant in the Beijing Hotel who had just filmed some very important contents. The boss said he wanted me to go and get this material myself, instead of sending the 20 or so interns from the broadcasting school who were working under me. This was a dilemma for me---- I was here to resign, but now I was being sent on a mission, and apparently a pretty important mission. I've never had any time before this where I've had to go somewhere on my own to deliver and pick something up.

I was young and easily impulsive. And, this company was treating me very well - in the 80's China, they paid 200 USD cash a day. I thought about it and decided that it was not a good idea to refuse him at this time, so I agreed. However, just after agreeing, I regretted it. Because the boss said, "I heard that it is still safe outside." But I could hear in his tone that his words were better than nothing - it was obviously not that safe outside.

I walked from the Wangfu Hotel, where our office is located, to the Beijing Hotel. It was after 10 am, but there were few people on the street. Occasionally, I could hear crisp, firecracker-like sounds coming from everywhere. At the corner of the long street, I saw some Beijing citizens, beating their chests and whispering angry curses. An old man was being carried by several young men, running at a brisk pace towards the Union Hospital. His mouth was shot in one side and out the other side. The old man's head was bowed and his body was leaning forward, apparently in great pain.

I arrived at the entrance of the Beijing Hotel, see a row of many glass doors were closed, only the middle one was half open, will be able to allow a person sideways through. By the door, there were at least a dozen people in civilian clothes standing there, performing official duties.

I bit the bullet and walked towards them.

There was a brand new videotape in my bag that I just unsealed to replace the one I had to take with the contents. I faced these compatriots on official duty and reassured myself that I had nothing on me and there was nothing on this tape.

While I was thinking, I had already past them and walked down the hall. I just felt that there were many eyes staring at me from behind. However, until I walked into the elevator and watched the door closed, no one ever shouted at me to stop.

When I got to the 14th floor, I found our camera crew's room and knocked on the door. Only to hear a fumble inside, after a while before the door was opened. The two foreigners thought I was here to catch them, they first removed the camera from the balcony and hid it under the bed, then also changed into pajamas, looking like a pair of gay, it was funny. They were relieved to see that it was me, and immediately set the camera back up on the balcony. The cameraman loaded the new tape I had brought into the machine, and the recording assistant handed over the tape I had come to pick up.

I took the elevator downstairs and walked to the hall. This time I had the contents of the video tape inside my bag. As I walked toward the front door, against the light, I felt that there were people inside and outside the door, but they were all motionless, obviously staring at me as I moved toward them. Those few dozen steps were the heaviest and longest steps I have ever taken in my life.

As I walked to the door, I could finally see the faces of those people. I just felt, a silent pressure, a ...... wrath. But still they didn't stop me and let me walk out.

I left the Beijing Hotel and walked quickly back to the Wangfu Hotel. As soon as I arrived, the editors made copies of the tape I brought back. When they copied it, I deliberately hid away from it, not wanting to know what was on it. If there is a problem, I can say I know nothing. Of course, this is only my own subjective wishful thinking, or self-delusion.

I was thinking of telling my boss about my resignation. But he suddenly asked me to send a copy of the tape to the capital airport to "release the carrier pigeon". I had no choice but to go to the airport. My consolation to myself is still that---- I have no idea of the contents of the tape.

"Release the carrier pigeon" is an American television term that means to go to an airport or somewhere and give material to any seemingly reliable traveler, paying him/her something to take it to where the flight is going. This was an old practice before satellite transmission became widespread. However, satellite transmission in Beijing at this time had long been cut off, and this old practice was the only way.

The capital airport was crowded with foreigners who were anxious to leave Beijing. In addition to the crowds, there was something else that was creepy: inside the large airport hall, there were countless people lining up and squeezing around to find a place, but most of them did not say a word, their faces were anxious and grave. Compared with the usual kind of human noise and bustle here, this time, the air is frozen in an almost creepy ...... silence. Occasionally someone whispered, but also inexplicably cautious, as if they do not want each other to hear.

I found an under-40, businessman-looking American in the queue for the flight to Hong Kong. I took the video tape out of my bag and handed it to him with a $100 cash, explaining that I was from an American TV company and asked him to be our carrier pigeon, hoping to tell me his name so I could fax it to Hong Kong when I got back to the office, so he could immediately hand it to the person we had waiting for him there when he got off the plane ......  It was still several years before 1997 and the satellite transmission system in Hong Kong had not yet been cut off.

The American looked at me, and then at the tape in his hand. Then he nodded his head, his face almost expressionless. I wrote down his name, "Robert". Robert said a few words to me that I will never forget. But please allow me to repeat them later.

When I left the airport, I was perhaps suspicious and always felt that someone was following me from behind. The only consolation I had for myself was still that I knew nothing about what was on that tape.

When I returned to the office, I dared not delay any longer and immediately found my boss and told him that I had completed my final mission, but I was sorry that I was a deserter and now had to resign. The boss seemed to realize at that moment that I was different from him, I was a Chinese passport holder. He thought about it, showed understanding, gave me my salary and let me go.

Many years have passed. This matter is also slowly forgotten. Until one day, I saw an image, an image known as the 20th century's most fearless display of human spirit.

My memory was activated.

On June 5, 1989, just after 10am, a young Chinese man in a white shirt stood in front of a rumbling tank convoy with his bare hands, defying death. A handful of other foreign news companies, including ours, captured his image on the upper floor of the Beijing Hotel next to the long street where he was blocking the tanks.

A few minutes later, I had to resign before the words came out, I was assigned by my boss to go to the Beijing Hotel in person to retrieve a video tape. After retrieving it, I was asked to go to the capital airport to "release the carrier pigeon" ......

From the point of view of time, place, and the super importance attached to it by my boss, I, a deserter, without knowing it at all, and while trying to console myself with "I don't know what's on the tape" at every moment, unwittingly sent the world the image of the last Chinese of that whole generation who refused to be a deserter.

Here I would like to say in particular that I was not without help and support. When I think about the scene today, I want to specifically thank those Beijing compatriots in civilian clothes at the gate of the Beijing Hotel who were on official duty. By their location, the information they had, and the technology they possessed, it is impossible to say that they did not know that our camera crew was filming on the 14th floor, that they did not know that I had taken the elevator to the 14th floor and retrieved the tape. As I said earlier, they looked at me with wrath inside their eyes. As someone who was thinking of being a deserter, I thought that their wrath was directed at me. However, I overlooked one thing. These people, after work, are also the people of Beijing. The bullets would never hide from their loved ones, friends, neighbors, because of the work they do during the day. Today, I have only one explanation for why they let me in and out of the gate that only allows one person to enter and exit. That is, they made an individual or collective, and by no means safe, decision to show the world the image of a righteous compatriot and the glory of the warrior in his head.

Finally, let me tell you what Robert, the American at the capital airport, said to me.

"I feel very, very guilty and ashamed. At the time when China needs help the most, I can do nothing but choose to flee, and have this privilege of being able to flee. I can't take this money. I don't know what is on this tape, but please rest assured that I will do my best to protect it and send it to where it should go, as a little something I can do for the Chinese."

My only regret as I recall all this today is that one of the pair of deserters, Robert and I, will, I'm afraid, never know what we did for the world, consciously or unconsciously, on the way leave.

This is an article that I really like. 
Today, on this memorial day, I finally translated it in a free environment.
I am considering recording this article in the future.


Popular posts from this blog

Talking about donations to disaster

What I experienced during this COVID-19 epidemic