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July 2005

We had just returned from running, and were covered in sticky sweat, when our doorbell rang.  It was a policeman.  He emphasized this fact by pointing to the emblem on his sleeve and saying, “I am the Police.”  We had been warned that some day a policeman might show up and want to see our documents—which makes perfect sense, given the high numbers of Americans who try to illegally immigrate to China.  In limited English, he asked how many people lived here.  We said two.  He asked to see our passports.  We produced our passports with our Chinese work visas, our Foreign Expert certificates, as well as our residence registration papers.  He wrote some information down in a notebook.  He asked if we worked here.  We showed him our school brochure and business card, and encouraged him to call them if he had any questions about us.  He asked again if there were only two people living here.  We assured him we were the only ones.  Towards the end of the interview, he revealed that one of our neighbors had complained of a loud noise and that’s why he was here. 

 We found this to be a bit ironic, since Zac and I are probably the quietest people in the neighborhood.  There has been pounding for the past two months due to remodeling in the apartments around us, the old ladies outside are always shrilly arguing with each other, the trash collectors routinely call loudly (often with the aid of a bullhorn) for boxes and bottles, the man upstairs is constantly grunting, and in the apartment next to us someone noisily chops vegetables with a cleaver all day.  Add to this the constant honking of horns, the opera music that blares from the loudspeakers at Xinghai Square, and the occasional sirens or firecrackers, and I don’t know how anyone could have heard a noise even if we made it.

So here’s what I think.  Two of our American friends came to our house on Friday, and given the policeman’s repetition of the question about how many people lived here, someone must have thought we were harboring westerners.  I think one of our neighbors is reliving the good old Red Guard days, when one would receive kudos for informing on one’s neighbors.  Our neighbors have been none too smiley towards us since we arrived, but now when we look at them we can’t help but wonder which are the ones who tried to get us into trouble with the police.  Their normal blank stares have taken on a sinister hue.

 On the other hand, the policeman was quite friendly and polite.  He didn’t even try to beat a confession out of us.  He left us his business card, so we think we’ll give him a call the next time our neighbors get too rowdy during a game of mahjong.


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