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.
Photos by Robert Siegel, NPR
Standing — or rather sitting one's ground in Beijing.
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.
Photo by Alison Klayman
Blogger Siegel at Beijing's Terminal C on his way to Chengdu.
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.