Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Things That blindside You at 1:30 on an Idle Tuesday...

In previous posts (you might have to look a ways back, but it's there) I had mentioned the "street food" available just outside the school gates (think plastic bags). Right outside Xintan's main gate, seven days a week, rain or shine, a small collection of food carts and vendors do business. Small little markets and collections of street vendors exist all over Qufu - we see them everywhere we go. Well, for the last month and a half or so there have been some interesting events regarding the street vendors located outside Xintan College, and today I was the unfortunate witness to the latest of these "interesting" events. Read on - this ones crazy.

But let's start at the beginning. About a month and a half ago I walked out to buy fried noodles from the guy I do the most business with, and was surprised to find that the area normally containing the street vendors was eerily vacant, whereas just the night before it had been slammin' busy. Turns out that almost all of the carts had moved about a hundred yards down the road, and there were police officers shouting at the few remaining carts telling them to move. Nothing else much came of this - the market moved down the street for a day, and slowly worked its way back to just outside the gate. I talked it over with some of my students who explained that the area where the carts had been stationed, right outside the gate, was Xintan property, and the college didn't want the carts there because they took away business from the on-campus canteen. It is important to note that the students don't look highly upon the canteen - one of Karrin's students mentioned flies in soup, and we routinely see stray cats running through there.

Well, after a while the police officers' presence became more routine, and slowly but surely the street vendors stopped setting up shop directly on the sidewalk outside Xintan, and instead moved into a nice uniform group lining the edge of the road, catering exclusively to those who happened to be on the very same sidewalk where they had set up shop before... I thought it was clever, really - carts, people, donkeys, and bicycles hanging out in the road is quite common in the streets of Qufu, as my previous post can attest, so simply moving the whole operation ten feet to the edge of the road (it's a big sidewalk) fixed their problem. Business went on as usual.

Now this is where all of us buy our fruit and occasionally our lunches (not as much as we used to - it's just too oily to eat all the time), including the ever infamous Jidan Bing. Rachel and Olivia love the Jidan Bing. We simply call it the "bing." It's a fried egg with vegetables placed inside something resembling a warm pita, with sauces. My point being, we're out there buying food generally on a regular basis. It is also, incidentally, exactly where the bus stops.

Today at about 1:30 I happened to be waiting for the bus for my weekly trip to Qushida to teach the Korean students. Now, this is a downtime for the market - the lunch rush is over and the vendors are all, in general, relaxing. Well, today, just before the bus rolled up, two taxis sped up alongside the vendors and stopped - about 10 feet in front of the bus stop, and thus, me. Immediately, six young men (they looked anywhere between 18 to 24) jumped out of the cabs, each one of them holding some form of a large steel pipe (Naturally). Immediately the shouting began, quickly followed by the men turning the large steel pipes on the vendors' carts. Now, many of the vendors are old women, who of course are completely defenseless against six men wielding steel pipes and the element of surprise. One woman's entire cart was completely destroyed; a chaotic mangled mess of broken glass, bicycle, and vegetables. There really wasn't anything the vendors could do but watch. Directly in front of me (about 8 feet, give or take a few) a Bing vendor had the entire top half of her cart smashed in. I noticed an old, rickety propane tank with a large dent in it about 15 feet away, luckily intact - that could have ended extremely poorly.

There isn't much else to it - as quick as they came the left. The men and their pipes got back in the cabs and sped off, leaving the rest of us to contemplate what the hell had just happened. Total time elapsed, 45 seconds. Most of the vendors were quite calm as they mulled over what happened - some combination of stunned, stoic, and understanding. They didn't really seem that surprised, although it's hard to tell how much actual anger/emotion was lost in translation, plus I immediately got on the bus.

Now I am not suggesting that this act of violence-as-intimidation is related to the school. I find it very hard to believe that the school would in fact hire a goon squad to intimidate some food vendors, and at this time I don't have any reason to think the incidents are related, but the thought crossed all of our minds. Whoever it was, they definitely wanted to send a clear message. Thankfully the pipes were directed solely at property - they didn't go for any of the vendors themselves, and they definitely didn't pay any attention to me standing at the bus stop. So on I went with my Tuesday. The Koreans, thankfully, didn't light anything on fire today.

No comments: