Monday (T-4) - Oh Hai - CycleBlaze

September 23, 2019

Monday (T-4)


Fancy dimsum while having tea
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I've got four days before my flight to Shanghai. I've got 19,000 characters of translation that still isn't finished on a job that hits the sweet spot between watching paint dry and having my fingernails pulled out with a rusty pliers (two things I've never actually done but I have an active imagination). I'm due to fire Replacement this afternoon and hopefully get all my company stuff back from her without any damage. I'm only about half done packing. I still need to go to the bike shop to get work done because the people at the Factory were sloppy. And now, on top of everything else, the fucking spooks are calling me.

I've dodged the last three meetings. A lot more than just those last three but I've definitely dodged the last three.

She's escalated, like they do when I've been dodging for a while, to calling me and using a new-to-me phone number, and I'm actually in town, so I probably can't avoid it. At the very least, I don't want to find out what happens if I try.

The spooks and I have a relationship going back to late in 2013 or early in 2014. I got a call from the Public Security Bureau asking if my company could do Russian translation. I said "yes". They said "great" and scheduled a meeting for me. When my then assistant Sansa and I got there, the person who called me took us to a conference room where three uniformed officers whose names I never got (not saying they didn't give them, just that I didn't get them) were already waiting, closed the door, and left. Those three then spent the next two hours very politely and very carefully not actually interrogating me but asking a whole lot of questions about my family connections, my life history, why I am in China, why Hainan, and what I do.
The ostensible cause for my being there was never brought up.

Since then, I have been invited out to tea by them on a number of occasions. Being "invited to tea" by any of China's security organs is generally considered to be anything other than a good thing. With my travel schedule and intentionally being unavailable, we've slacked off to only seeing each other about once a year now but it's still a lot.

Per the BBC in 2013In the Chinese political language, "to be invited for tea" has become a euphemism for being questioned by the police. The invitation comes from the authorities in the form of a phone call, and a knock on the door. The questioning normally lasts a few hours - tea might or might not be drunk during the session. The security people will ask you about your activities and issue warnings to stop or face the consequences.

Other than the first time at the Public Security Bureau, those early invitations all took place at a fairly nice private tea room at a upscale hotel and no one wore uniforms. Like that first time, there were always at least three people and they always took notes.

I asked around both in my foreign and Chinese circles and while a few people knew or had heard of someone who'd been invited out once or even twice, three and four times without an obvious order to "stop doing whatever it is you are doing" was unheard of. I'd already seen them five or six times by then and not only had they not told me I was doing anything wrong, they had actively avoided answering the question.

I periodically brought up the Chinese to Russian translation that was the whole reason they got me to go to the PSB in the first place but it was soon enough made clear that it had never been anything other than an excuse. So, although I was polite, I quickly went from "being as nice as possible" because I really wanted the legitimacy and the boost that doing paying work for the PSB would be giving my company to treating these invitations as spoken Chinese practice. I also started taking every opportunity I could to be as cheerfully annoying as possible.

It wasn't long before they stopped carrying a notebook and started inviting me to restaurants but I noticed, whenever we didn't get a private room, if any of the tables nearby got too loud, things would rapidly conclude. They also remembered things from previous sessions that should have only been possible to remember if they'd been going over the notes that they hadn't been taking. 

Being my mother's daughter, I not only started intentionally answering questions in ways that would make report-writing difficult, I started paying careful attention to things I did with an eye for "if they ask me about this, how frustrating can I make my answers?" When telling a story about translating at a birth, for example, there were some very explicit hand gestures and a graphic description of what I'd seen when I walked into Labor and Delivery. (In English, when I'm feeling particularly cheeky, I refer to it as the "Eye of Sauron".)

A few times here and there, I'd dodge them on the grounds of not being up to it. If I was in town, that just meant they'd ask me again a week later. Or two. The first time I got a phoned invitation was after I'd been dodging. And instead of saying she was from the Public Security Bureau, she said "remember me, we met at the Public Security Bureau".

So yeah, I don't even know which Three Letter Agency is buying me lunch.

I had so many other things I wanted to be dealing with today.

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