Friday, February 24, 2017

Beijing Shenanigans

It was a dark and stormy '90's night: I was alone at work laying out the next edition of The Stranger. Suddenly the phone rang :O the mysterious voice was a guy calling from China who had some urgent questions about how to publish a newspaper. Like, 'how do you such and such in QuarkXpress?' and 'what is the so and so with web presses?' We talked for a while, then the next night talked again, and then the next night again. One year later, I was on the ground in Beijing.

In between those two bookends were some pretty awesome magical moments:
  • The 2 months we set everything up in Honolulu: databases, swimming, layout, surfing, designing a brand and logo, boogie boarding, buying and setting up computers, and surfing;
  • The loading of 5 computers/monitors, scanner, printer, and everything else up into 12 human-body sized black duffel bags ... we were going to have to smuggle everything into China;
  • The sneaking of 12 ginormous duffels past the customs guys in the Beijing airport. Our bags were so huge that they were only unloaded off the plane after all the other passengers had gone. Our only chance was to make a distraction, so one of us went through with a single bag. He, of course, got caught and started an awesome argument. All the other customs agents went to observe and we rolled 3 carts piled about 7' high with 11 black duffels right behind them and out the door;
  • My email, which I was told was one of the very first in China, that I got through a friend in the Stanford High Energy Physics joint venture;
  • The bribing of the party, the army, the police, the mafia, the landlords;
  • The time we got caught publishing without a license. We went before the ministry of information with an unopened manila envelope from Hong Kong. We had put 5 copies of the paper in an envelope, mailed it to a friend in Hong Kong. He put them in a new envelope and mailed them back. We opened them in front of the officials and said "See, we are not publishing in Beijing. We are a Hong Kong publisher." And it worked.
  • The eating of fried baby sparrows on a stick, live leeches, animal fat with hair on it, and the 'Three Squeals,' which is a live rat embryo (OK, I didn't eat the Squeals. But it was an actual thing);
  • The first issue, which we delivered at night as we were not legal to publish. We dropped off the papers in bundles of 50 to our distribution points. Once business hours came around, we called to ensure that they got picked up. They were GONE. Turns out that the little old ladies that walk around picking up stray paper for recycling had grabbed all of them.
  • The time our printer guy printed about half the pages upside down because he couldn't read English;
  • The time I moved into my apartment, and the girl who was moving out hadn't yet fully gotten her stuff out yet. So I tossed her stuff out on the porch. She must have come by and gotten them at some point, because they eventually disappeared, but I never actually met her;
  • The time, years later, when I married that girl in Seattle. And the time after that when she and I went to a friend's house and met some other people who lived in that same apartment (2-1-1 Qijaiyuan) and they left a table that she took with her to Hong Kong and then to Seattle and at that moment was in our house, and they proved it by pointing out that the white stuff in the wood cracks was bird poop from their parrot;
  • and some more, I am sure, as I remember it :)

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