My experience being rounded up by the Chinese police at the big Shenzhen drug raid

[In the early hours of February 21, 2016, there was a major drug raid at a Shenzhen rave party. It has since become international news, reported on by The Guardian and Vice. I was rounded up along with hundreds of other people, and this is my story.]

 

One of the surprising things I discovered upon moving to China all those years ago was that illegal drugs are remarkably easy to come by.  Before arriving, one would assume that wouldn’t be the case in a pseudo-Communist country. Yet, the party scene introduced itself to me almost immediately and I saw that often times drugs among expats were no big deal. Perhaps it’s the chaos that comes with rapid economic expansion, but for whatever reason that’s the way it’s generally been.

To be specific, expat stoners I know seem to usually find a source and easily keep up their stoner lifestyle. It’s only marijuana, and it’s becoming legal in America nowadays anyway, so what’s the big deal?

Besides that, there’s MDMA in the club scene. From what I’ve observed, psychedelics such as LSD are almost unheard of unless one has a very good source –  as that kind of psyche-spirituality vibe is not apparent here. Opiates rarer still. I have heard tales of cocaine and ketamine, and newspapers do report that methamphetamine is a growing problem in China.

Based upon my admittedly anecdotal evidence, among foreigners in big cities at least, it’s mostly a bit of MDMA at clubs and the usual marijuana hit if you are into that kind of thing.

Not to mention, like almost everywhere else in the world, the main drug of choice is a certain legal narcotic which is definitely the most destructive of all: alcohol.

Personally, I am not into most that. I think I’ve done the normal amount of experimentation in my life, and politically I am quite against prohibition. But marijuana doesn’t do it for me. It’s not to say that I am morally opposed, the THC chemical reaction simply makes me feel extremely anxious and uncomfortable and I’m not a fan. I don’t particularly like alcohol either, to be honest.

The unfair thing about the world is that the random chemical reactions specific to my brain and genetics more or less keep me clean. It’s not like I’m making any major effort to “just say no.” There is nothing at all fair about functional people who enjoy smoking being punished so harshly in society, while I am not. It’s nothing but luck. And when the police came to drug test me that night, I got to go home, while some of my friends weren’t so lucky…


mmexport1456324418135.jpg

The Real Deal is a group of partygoers in Shenzhen who organize underground outdoor parties with electronic music – raves, if you will. I’ve been going to their parties for years. In fact, the big party that got raided was their 4th year anniversary. They advertise openly, book famous Hong Kong DJs, and have been a fixture on the community for quite some time. It never felt subversive to enjoy their events. I for one appreciate the efforts of the organizers to create a fun place for people to listen to music and find something different to do in Shenzhen. Certainly beats overpriced drinks at pretentious nightclubs.

On the night of February 20th, I decided to go to the tunnel party with my girlfriend. It happened to be near the Ikea, in walking distance from my home in the Baishizhou neighborhood. Several of my friends were there, and I expected we would all enjoy ourselves. Me and my girlfriend arrived at about midnight, met up with some buddies, had some drinks, danced, and so on. I did note that the anniversary party was quite crowded. Still, it seemed legit to me.

20160221_004842.jpg

Don’t get me wrong. The Real Deal organizers, from my understanding, don’t go farther than make deals with local security guards.  Being that it’s outdoors and unlicensed, it’s still pretty much a “rave,” isn’t it? Yet the worst that ever happened in the past is that there’d be noise complaints and some police came to shut down the party. Normal risk, right? Or so one would think.

Without naming names, I did notice LSD and nitrous oxide around. (Are those chemicals even illegal in China?) Pills appeared to be harder to come by, ever since the two unfortunate overdoses back in December most people had been avoiding that sort of thing. No, as usual, the normal culprit was the noticeable smell of marijuana.

I don’t know what made this time so special, why there had to be a crackdown that day. I have no doubt the police knew about these parties for years but never cared. Why now? Was it because of those two overdose deaths that they felt they needed to protect us from ourselves? Was it that the crowds were getting too big and China doesn’t like big, potentially protest-y, crowds? Was it, as currently noticeable from Beijing to Hong Kong, the general atmosphere of authoritarianism which has been growing of late under Xi Jinping…?

In any case, at about 3:45 a.m. a whole lot of shit went down. I remember it clearly because my girlfriend and I had previously discussed that we should leave at 3:30 in order to not to stay out too late. When the time came, she suggested we dance a little more, and I said okay. We tried really hard to not wallow over that decision after the shit went down.

It was totally surreal. I was sitting on a curb catching up with a few pals, and suddenly saw a few police officers run down the hill. I took my girlfriend’s arm and everybody walked away at a brisk pace. Then, the abrupt end to the music caused a weird shift in scenery. The silence came with a sense of panic, and everyone started dashing toward and exit. There was a serious danger of trampling at that point. My first thought was that people were overreacting and it couldn’t be such a big deal, but I soon noticed there was something different about the closure of this party.

We got to an exit and a line of riot police with shields and batons had completely blocked the way. I have never experienced anything like that before. I couldn’t even see behind me because of the crowds, but nobody could move and it must have been blocked on every side. A bilingual, senior looking cop started yelling in English and Mandarin. “Turn off your phones! Sit down! Stay still!” It was a very confusing moment.

mmexport1456120953563.jpg

The weirdest thing was not knowing what to do next. Although this was an extremely coordinated attack — Shenzhen Daily reported “the Nanshan District Public Security Sub-bureau confirmed the raids had happened and that they had been planned for ‘quite a bit of time.’” — all those hundreds of officers working through the night seemed to be out of their element. We sat around for about an hour. People stood up, and were told to sit down. There wasn’t much room to sit. I saw my friends in various piles, and we tried to keep each other’s spirits up.  I had my arm around my girlfriend. On another side, I saw some expat guys getting rowdy and then handcuffed.  I saw cops with streams of plastic cable tie handcuffs, yet thankfully they were never used. All in all, in retrospect, it was pretty peaceful. At the time there was just so much speculation; we didn’t know what was going to happen.

Finally, small groups were formed and were told to walk to the nearby parked police buses. We lined up and put our hands on each other’s shoulders like a cheesy conga line.  Mine was the second or third group and I was glad to get it over with. I wanted the next step to be done with already.

Once piled into the police bus, we driven around for a while. I had no idea what kind of route they took, but I later learned that it wasn’t even that far; still walking-distance from my home. All different police stations in Nanshan District were working in tandem, and luckily the Taoyuan station was nearby. Along with my girlfriend, two other American friends also joined me in that police station. Along with about fifty people in total. I know that because we were given numbers drawn in sharpies on our hands. I was number 43, and I’ll never forget it.

20160221_073523.jpg

I had to pee so badly! That was the most painful part of the process. There would be more urine-related activity to go around, and they gave us plenty of water. After things were eventually organized and settled down, the station waiting room was full of chairs and we weren’t allowed to leave and then the real waiting began. The boredom was the absolute worst. No music or anything.

As the sun came up, one-by-one we had to take urine tests. I heard that women had to be watched by a female officer, which is rather humiliating. Men could turn their back while being watched, though I did notice the toilet had a camera positioned above.

Somehow, it occurred to me that it would be appropriate to joke as much as possible. What else could I do but try to laugh it off? I tried to make my friends laugh, and said ganbei! (“cheers”) to the cops as I held my own steaming cup of urine. That got some smiles. I asked if they had Wi-Fi, I declared that I would pee sitting down in solidarity with the women, I sang Taylor Swift songs, I told bad jokes about horses in bars with long faces, and I suggested that I ought to call the police after such treatment. Lastly, when they put the testing device in my cup I asked if it showed I’m pregnant. Get it?

mmexport1456114924925.jpg

Although I tried to be on everyone’s good side, deep down I felt a lot of animosity for being treated this way. Obviously, the police officers I met are only cogs in a greater machine. Yet they are willing cogs, and cannot approve. Early in the morning they brought some steamed buns for people to eat – struck me as a good cop/bad cop ploy – and I refused to eat any.

Actually, to be fair, our station wasn’t bad compared to what I heard about others. People were made to sit outside on the floor in the cold. Victims were told that the Chinese government has a right to detain anyone innocent for 24-hours without any arrest. Some weren’t allowed to talk. Many weren’t allowed to leave until many hours later than my group.

mmexport1456051147978.jpg

Of the four of us in my own personal set, only three were to leave that morning. Sadly, one of my friends, of the stoner sort, was sent somewhere else after the drug test. Briefly, I had witnessed some people in a cell in the back; sad scenes of men crying and couples cradling each other. It was very worrying that a friend could be hanging out with us one minute, and then taken somewhere else the next.

After all this grueling time, just before 10:00 a.m., they started letting people out. First a Spanish woman complained until they processed her information and she was allowed to leave. Then a Chinese woman left. I crossed the barricade a few times to complain and plead and just learn what the situation was. Turned out, when I didn’t give them my passport number before (I feigned that I had forgot), they wouldn’t let us leave until everyone gave their numbers so the authorities could check our visa status. Fine. I gave in and gave my number. Then waited another hour or two. How long could it take to look up? I had even crossed the border from Hong Kong the day before. What was the big holdup?

There was one drunk, half-passed out gentleman who couldn’t be bothered to give a real passport number. People were getting angrier and angrier, turning on each other. Interesting to see how easily sleep deprivation can affect people, and on the other side to see how freedom can have the opposite effect. At last, when they had called out numbers and one-by-one we were allowed to leave, we clapped and cheered in joyous relief. “44.” “43.” “42.” Even the cops smiled as us newly freed detainees applauded.

20160221_073453.jpg

My phone was out of power. My stomach was empty. In minimalist attire, without sunglasses to protect from the morning light, we all went home. That Sunday was a write-off day, like jet-lagged with sleep patterns all askew, and I didn’t get much done. I am getting too old for all-nighters.

In a sense, I was relieved after the experience. A part of me always wondered what would happen if I was got in trouble with the police in China. I feel vindicated now. They didn’t interrogate me or anything, they simply checked my visa status and after a long while let me on my way.

According to a translated press release, the numbers were surprising. 491 people were detained that night. 118 had tested positive for drug use, majority marijuana of course, and 93 held. (It’s not clear why 25 people weren’t held. Connections, corruption?) Of those 93, 50 of them being foreigners. Perhaps they caught like two drug dealers, but most were released after 4 or 5 days. It was called “administrative detention” or “violation.” Not arrest.

“They were after the dealers…” my detained friend later reported back to me. “Everyone else is a pawn to them.”

Those limbo days were rather terrifying. Rumors abounded, and those of us left free all scrambled to figure out what was going to happen to our friends. Moreover, there was the great question of what was happening to the community within China. Simply put, is it worth it to live here anymore?

It has now been confirmed to me that nobody (at least not the vast majority of non-drug dealers) is getting deported. Chinese and foreigners alike, they don’t even have to pay fines. All that fear, and what was the point? The city of Shenzhen undertook this massive operation, apparently all in the legal grey zone haze that is the China system, and just what was the real purpose?

With 80 percent of the detainees drug-free, and only half foreigners: The question remains, what possibly could have been the point of all that?

Whatever the point is, some kind of message has been received. Shenzhen is no longer what it once was. The expat and party scene will get past this, but something has changed. A threatening cloud of authorities now hovers over the community, and somehow China doesn’t seem as welcoming as it used to be.

The party is over.

 

mmexport1456051015487.jpg

Advertisements

A couple of Chinglishes to tide you over

In these dark times, we must take what we can get to cheer us up 🙂

From a hike in Meilin, and a Snoopy-ish shirt:

(In other news, I finally saw the Peanuts movie and twasn’t bad…)

 

From my lovely Meilin holiday hike in #Shenzhen, lovely sentiment and nice and #Chinglish

A post shared by Ray (@raelianautopsy) on

Nice #Chinglish? coat. I assume a #Snoopy reference. #beagles!

A post shared by Ray (@raelianautopsy) on

South China Morning Blues: Excerpt 2

This week I’d like to share another excerpt from my novel South China Morning Blues (last week’s), this time concerning the city of Guangzhou and my favorite character symbolized by the Chinese Zodiac character of 猴… The Monkey!

You can scroll down and read the embedded file below, or download the PDF file via this link:

South China Morning Blues: Monkey

 

 

 

If you’d like to read more, please feel free to order on Amazon or directly from publisher Blacksmith Books

http://www.amazon.com/South-China-Morning-Blues-Hecht/dp/9881376459

http://www.blacksmithbooks.com/books/south-china-morning-blues

 

unnamed

Excerpt: South China Morning Blues

Now that New Year celebrations are over with, I’d like to share an excerpt of my novel South China Morning Blues published by Blacksmith Books.

You can read the embedded piece below, or download the PDF via this attachment:

South China Morning Blues – Shenzhen: Prologue

 

It is the very beginning of the story, a prologue to Book I’s setting of Shenzhen. Opening in media res with one character represented by the Chinese Zodiac animal 虎 (Tiger), the story then jumps back and forth with the point-of-view of 兔 (Hare), and finally gets to the introductory character 牛 (Ox). I hope it isn’t too difficult to keep track, hope it’s worth the effort.

These tales represent my attempt at capturing the jagged essence of the modern cityscape experience, as expats and locals try to make sense of this rapidly-changing setting. These people are flawed, don’t always do the right thing, but maybe just maybe they come across as somewhat realistic humans. There are all kinds out there. At least, there are 12 knds out there…

 

If you’d like to read more, feel free to order on Amazon or directly from the publisher

http://www.amazon.com/South-China-Morning-Blues-Hecht/dp/9881376459

http://www.blacksmithbooks.com/books/south-china-morning-blues

unnamed

 

Reflections on a Chinese New Year

20160207_232119.jpg

My own humble attempt at adding to the festivities

The city of Shenzhen is nearly emptied-out. Like a major metropolitan ghost town. Not quite postapocalyptic, but slightly eerie.

All the migrants are back in their hometowns, crowded in record-breakingly awful train stations. And most of my expat friends are posting pictures of paradisesque beaches in Southeast Asia. I’m saving up for a trip later this year.

It is the Year of the Monkey, and cartoon monkeys are everywhere.

Even with Shenzhen at a fraction of its normal population, Lunar New Year’s Eve sounds like a war zone. Bang! Pow! Ka-BOOOOOM!!!! Fireworks — mostly procured illegally — are for sale everywhere. The ancient Chinese traditions.

Many firecracker stands have popped up, selling dangerous flammable items in an unregulated market and it is so much fun.

An odd thing about living in China/Asia is that you get an extra month to reflect upon the new year. There’s the Gregorian calendar to celebrate and I like it. Then there’s several weeks to break resolutions and mull over how your life is progressing. And then you get a second chance to celebrate the new year all over again and embrace the future! The intervening time may be sort of a limbo, but I still like it.

I’d like to wish a particularly happy new year to all you twenty-four and thirty-six year-olds (even though it’s bad luck to have your birthday on your own animal year, right?), as the twelve year cycle begins anew.

新年快乐!

恭喜发财!

Letters From China… Cold Reading in Guangzhou

12540756_10207474402091770_8562495052131559806_n

Last weekend, I was honored to have been invited to the Letters From China bilingual poetry event in Guangzhou courtesy of GZ-based poet Aaron Styza. It was at Yi-Gather, one of my favorite places in the city, and the turnout and conversation were excellent. I, of course, read from my novel South China Morning Blues.

Unfortunately, it was one of the coldest nights of the year and the place doesn’t have heating! This happens when living in the tropical southern regions; all year you’re sweating and you never know what week is going to be actually cold… and you are not at all prepared for it. Seriously, even though it doesn’t get below freezing (and I did grow up in a place with four seasons), the combination of humidity and winds makes for some very harsh conditions.

The next day, something magical happened that made the weather more than worth it! It actually SNOWED. It was about two or three degrees Celsius and by some miracle small pellets of frozen water (maybe technically hail, but looked enough like snow) softly fell to the ground and immediately melted. Brief and ephemeral, we couldn’t believe our eyes. Not that it was a polar vortex like elsewhere, but in the context of this tropical environment it was amazing. Sadly, wasn’t really photographable.

I heard it’s the first time the weather had been this low in the region in some fifty-sixty years. And, a month ago was the warmest year’s winter ever. Not going to get into climate change or anything, just sayin these temperature extremes are interesting.

 

Anyway, here is an Instagram picture followed by Youtube video concerning the event:

[Yes I know I do not look good nor sound good but the self is an eternal process and I shall work on it]