There we were, four American travelers in Beijing scheduled to leave for home in the morning. We had a snag in our plans however. Our visas had expired earlier in the day and now, being illegally in the country, we had no place to sleep the night before our departure. In a last ditch effort to prevent ourselves from sleeping in the streets, we contacted our friend Ja Luo (aka Jack) from a city we visited earlier. He promised he would set up means for us to sleep safely that night and get to the airport on time the following morning. The result of this was Katie, Whitney, Sarah and I now sitting in a large grey van in the outskirts of the city. In this van we were surrounded by four strangers, all Chinese and only two of whom spoke English. Needless to say, I believed this to be quite an inauspicious scenario.
As the van started up and rolled off towards our uncertain future, we experienced five minutes of the most awkward silence I have ever been a part of in my life. It was like going on a first date in high school only if you thought your date might end up harvesting your organs in a few hours.
“Hi we are here to help. I hope you have been enjoying China!” our female abductor said enthusiastically. “It has certainly been quite an experience,” Katie replied with a smile. It seemed no matter what socially unprecedented situation we were in, Katie always maintained easy composure. Meanwhile, I contemplated how much it would hurt to tuck and roll out of a moving van.
The girl introduced herself as Yue Fu, a friend of Jack’s. The rest of her posse consisted of her boyfriend, her boyfriend’s friend and stern young man who I later found out was her brother. He was the one driving and had a look in his eye that hinted that he’d probably seen some things. Between the outlandish nature of the situation and my adrenaline rushing, I was unable to memorize their names. The girl told us that Jack had explained our unfortunate situation and she had her brother arrange a safe place for us to sleep. Eventually, we rolled onto a concrete lot that was entirely empty save for a rectangular blue and white building that looked like a motel minus the reception office.
We timidly exited the van and were led up a set of stairs connecting to a balcony. As we walked down the balcony I was able to peer into the cracked doors of a number of rooms. They were filled with half naked Chinese men gambling in their underwear.
We reached the end of the balcony and the boyfriend open up a door that lead to a short hallway with two rooms connected to it, one for the girls and one for me. Yue Fu followed us in shortly after with two large plastic bags full of treats. “We know you probably haven’t had dinner so we brought you snacks! We hope you have a good night and safe travels!” she said with a smile. She told us that her brother (referred to as Kato from here on out) would be downstairs if we needed anything and that he would take us to the airport in the morning. With those parting words and our deep gratitude, she made for the door. “Oh and he doesn’t speak any English,” she added as he walked out.
Words fail to describe my emotions at that moment. I was in an odd place somewhere between dismay and grim amusement. Truth, beyond doubt, is stranger than fiction. My companions and I took an hour to recap on the weirdness of the day and then swiftly fell victim to our exhaustion.
In the morning we woke up with our organs wholly intact and no worse for wear. We were not really sure what our next step was and almost as soon as we began planning, Kato knocked on the door. True to his form he didn’t say a word but motioned us to follow him. We gathered our luggage and made our way down the stairs where the grey van, our creepy chariot of salvation, awaited us. Kato slid the door open for us and once we were settled inside, he hoped in the driver’s seat and took off. “Are we going to the airport now? We can’t get our boarding passes until this afternoon,” Sarah asked. Kato shook his head just continued driving. He parked on the street outside of a dusty looking building. He opened the door for us again and motioned us to get out. Kato led us into the building which was filled with an enticing aroma.
Freshly cooked dumplings and steamed buns! We feasted heavily on our last Chinese meal while Kato sat at the end of the table stoically smoking a cigarette and nursing a dumpling. The language barrier prevented any attempt at conversation but I am sure the happy looks on our faces spoke for themselves. We said thank you in Chinese and the ever impassive Kato gave us an understanding nod. He refused to let us pay for our amazing breakfast. He quickly shooed us away from the table so he could handle the bill. We continued to thank our gritty chauffer the entire way to the airport. As we pulled up to the terminal, Kato bid us farewell then let us out of the van. “Bye bye,” he said.
Overwhelmed with the kindness of our kidnappers and the good will we experienced in the hands of these strangers, we all gave Kato a big hug. His stern façade cracked a slight smile then he got back in his van and took off. As we turned to face the imposing Beijing Capital International Airport, we realized our biggest challenge lay ahead; China’s General Administration of Customs. Palms sweaty and hearts racing, we stepped through the door.
To Be Concluded in Part 3!
This story was curated by Quentin Turner