Friday, August 20, 2010

Bon voyage, Pierre!

Salud drew a particularly big crowd this Wednesday.

It wasn't just the sudden downpour forcing people inside and keeping them there. And it wasn't just the irresistible Aeolian cadences of those Lennon/McCartney classics being belted out by Beijing's one-and-only Beatles Tribute Band (once again gamely donning their moptop wigs and lurid Sgt. Pepper uniforms).

No, most of Beijing's laowai music community had turned out to bid farewell to lanky Frenchman Pierre Billiard, one of the best bassists we've seen in this city, and a man who in his time has played with just about everyone (the extended lineups of No Name and Panjir, and of course the Beatles Tribute Band, to name just a few).

Pierre, alas, is having to leave Beijing at very short notice, after more than 4 years here. We wish him well in his travels and his future musical career.

[There's a particularly sad and ugly tale behind Pierre's abrupt departure. Apparently, he got into a late-night contretemps with a Beijing taxi driver a couple of weeks back, and rashly aimed a kick at the door of the cab as it pulled away. Unfortunately, this trivial act of frustration was witnessed by a group of policemen, who immediately pounced on him and his Chinese girlfriend, roughing the girl up quite badly. They were dragged off to the local nick, and detained - without food - for 24 hours. After which, the Chinese girl's family made a fairly substantial cash payment to secure her release. Pierre declined to do likewise - and so found himself banged up for another 8 days, and then told to quit the country by the end of the week because his visa had been cancelled. It seems the police had decided to represent the charge as a direct assault on the taxi driver; although I don't think the matter ever went before a judge, and the cabbie probably didn't even file a complaint.

This, unfortunately, is what life in China is like. We could any of us fall foul of a policeman in a bad mood at just about any time. And there is absolutely nothing we can do to protect ourselves: our Embassies don't want to get involved in individual cases; and we certainly can't expect any justice from the ramshackle, opaque, endemically corrupt - in practical terms, virtually non-existent - Chinese "legal system".

At least, most of the time, the worst that can happen to us foreigners is that we'll get booted out of the country (although that could be pretty disastrous for many of us, when our families, our social lives, our livelihoods and our financial assets - which it would probably be impossible to retrieve remotely - are all here; and we'd be unlikely to be allowed ever to return). However, when Chinese citizens get swallowed by the 'criminal justice' system, they can disappear for very long periods, indefinitely, for good.

I despair more and more of this wretched country. It may be time to leave.]

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