Robert Siegel

Standoff on North Workers' Stadium Street

On the southbound service road of North Workers Stadium Street in Beijing, a crowd was blocking traffic. A uniformed parking attendant was standing in front of a new, white Toyota, preventing it from moving forward into the intersection. The parking attendant was a woman in her thirties or forties; she does the kind of work that can make one look older.

Sanxingdui

Standing -- or rather sitting one's ground in Beijing. Photos by Robert Siegel, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Photos by Robert Siegel, NPR

The driver of the Toyota was a woman in her thirties or forties; she wore a stylish blouse and sunglasses, things that can make one look younger. The driver had parked in a lot up the block, returned to her car and after being told the fee was five kuai, paid three, said she had no change, and pulled out of the lot and into the service road. The attendant walked ahead of her, demanding payment.

A HUMAN ROADBLOCK

At the traffic light, the argument became more heated and the traffic attendant sat down in front of the Toyota, turning herself into a human roadblock.

This attracted the crowd of, perhaps, two dozen people. Some of them shouted at the driver: "pay her."

This seemed to be the opinion of the older people. "We're all the same," one older gentleman in a baseball cap told my friend who speaks Chinese. He evidently meant 'everybody pays'. But others shouted angrily at the parking attendant, who protested, "she has to pay."

"You go back to where you came from and pay," said one of the driver's supporters, who evidently had her marked for an out-of-towner.

The driver rolled up her window and honked.

THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING

"You're making everyone look bad," one man told the parking attendant. "There are foreigners here taking pictures." After hearing this translated, I put away my camera.

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Blogger Siegel at Beijing's Terminal C on his way to Chengdu. Photo by Alison Klayman hide caption

itoggle caption Photo by Alison Klayman

There were some in the crowd who attempted to solve the crisis. One person offered to pay the additional two kuai. That seemed to be beside the point, as it would exempt both parties from admitting wrong.

A young woman in a green and white sweat suit (she was USA number 3 on some mythical, sportswear manufacturer's creation of a team) gently pulled the parking attendant to her feet and tried to reason with the her. The attendant, back on her feet, remained adamant.

After what must have been five minutes at least, a couple of private security guards arrived and made of show of trying to resolve the standoff, but the attendant would not budge and the driver would not pay.

Then a cop arrived, finally. He stepped out of his patrol car, spoke with both parties and asked the driver for her license. He had her pull the Toyota around the corner onto Xinzdong Street and told her to drive to the police station. The parking attendant went back to work, the crowd dispersed, and traffic on the service road resumed.

Comments

 

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Hey Robert,

Welcome to Chengdu!

I only wish I could be there, but I am here in San Diego, CA.

Our normal sunny weather that makes everyone in Chengdu envious has been more Chengdu-like for several days: cloudy and wet.

I hope you'll like your stay in Chengdu.

Sent by Dan | 7:38 PM | 5-7-2008

It's like a quantum mechanical effect: lao3 wai4 cannot observe without changing the state of the system. Then you took out a camera.

Sent by Jon Moulton | 8:17 PM | 5-7-2008

Why you put a Beijing story in Chengdu Diary?

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Robert was headed to Chengdu when this incident was observed. We've had other non-Chengdu entries from the people involved in this project, too.)

Sent by ruby | 8:49 PM | 5-7-2008

This report shows that you have more than merely the skill of a canny reporter. Your journalistic instinct has obviously enabled you, on your arrival day, to observe one of the troubling phenomena in the developing China: the respect, or lack of, for the law, and to some extend the respect, or lack of, for each other.

I can never understand why a person driving a car that costs about two hundred thousand (200,000) Yuan (Kuai) would refuse to pay her due of two Yuan (Kuai), and in the process would intentionally make the parking attendant lady lose her dignity.

The mark of a civil society is not based on its people being able to indulge in materialistic life styles; it is because its citizens treat each other with respect. China has made great strides in the direction of developing a civil society in the last thirty years, apparently it still has a long way to go.

I tip my hat to your report and to the parking attendant lady.

Sent by Jian | 2:31 AM | 5-8-2008

This report shows that your have more than the skill of a canny reporter. Your journalistic instinct has obviously enabled you, on your arriving day, to observe one of the troubling phenomena in the developing China: the respect, or lack of, for the law, and to some extend the respect, or lack of, for each other.

I can never understand why a person driving a car that costs about two hundred thousand (200,000) Yuan (Kuai) would refuse to pay her due of two Yuan (Kuai), and in the process would intentionally make the parking attendant lady lose her dignity.

A society being civil is not because its people can indulge in more materialistic life styles; it is because its citizens are civil. China has made great strides in the direction of developing a civil society in the last thirty years; apparently it still has a long way to go.

I tip my hat to your report and to the parking attendant lady.

Sent by Jian | 2:36 AM | 5-8-2008

The parking attendant in your report makes me laugh. I, for one, think she did the right thing. It really puzzles me why a person who can afford to drive a car was reluctant to pay a neglegible parking fee.

On the other hand, keep in mind that this kind of thing happens everywhere, not just in China.

Sent by yang | 10:51 AM | 5-8-2008

Poor people are struggling for five yuan every day. But how about those rich people? They live in big houses and eat delicacies from land and sea. That is sick.

Sent by Song Qiuying | 11:55 AM | 5-8-2008

Yes, this kind of thing will happen anywhere.

Once when I was pulled over for speeding, the cop and I got to talking about stubborn people, and he told me a story of a guy who got a ticket for not stopping at a stop sign on his moped. Instead of paying the $25, this guy made several appeals, lost and ended up paying over $1,000.

It ain't just China.

Sent by Kong | 1:46 PM | 5-8-2008

In China, an antipathy is growing between rich and poor.

The rich are sometimes so much overbearing and look down upon the poor (as if they're educated or cultivated). The used of sunglassed is a typical token of this wealthy minority; as if by wearing them they could be elevated from the "vulgar masses."

The incident you describe in your blog entry and its repetition hundreds and thousands of times every day around the nation, should be sending an admonishing signal to the government, but nothing is being done to relieve the situation.

You reported that someone in the crowd said, "there're foreigners taking pictures." That reflects the self-abasement of the Chinese. Confronting the upcoming Olympics, most Chinese are trying desperately to hide the gravity of situation here in order to leave a good image with foreign tourists. However, this kind of attitude doesn't help China at all, and will serve nothing but to deeply undermine the foreign image of China.

Sent by Wecan Wong | 9:51 PM | 5-8-2008

It may be a bitter medicine to take, but I do agree with Wong on some points. Especially the antipathy between rich and poor. After paying a lot more than 2 Kuai ($0.3) for her arrogance, this driver will learn to take more responsibility later. If law enforcement is at work, I don't think it is an unresolvable problem. In this sense, I am very optimistic. What we need is time.

Sent by C. Liang | 1:35 PM | 5-9-2008

I couldn't agree more with Wecan Wong's comment above. Maybe the blog post could have alluded to these larger issues?

Sent by Peter | 3:09 PM | 5-9-2008

Sounds like a scene out of Frasier.

Sent by Joe | 12:06 AM | 5-10-2008

I experienced a similar reaction while living and teaching in Changsha, Hunan. Child beggars were common, and on one of the coldest nights I observed 2 children, neither of whom were over the age of 4, begging on the sidewalk in the wealthy shopping district near Bu Xing Jie. I raised my camera while they weren't watching, turned off the flash, and took a few photos. I was immediately blocked by a Chinese guy, who looked very angry but said nothing. Later, I related the story to my students, which caused a huge loss of face for all of them and a very uncomfortable few moments. We finally started talking about it, and eventually everything worked out. The point is, the Chinese sometimes seem to place more emphasis on saving face than fixing problems, if foreigners are around. That was my impression, anyway.

I love my stay in China. The Chinese are great people, but they are really sensitive to criticism from laowai, no matter how well-intentioned it is.

Sent by Brent | 1:28 AM | 5-13-2008

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