I woke up early this morning and decided to go off and take some pictures before breakfast. The air was chilly but the sky was clear and it was a beautiful day in Shenyang so I walked along singing "Here comes the sun." And it's all right.
But it wasn't.
"Halt!" a rent-a-soldier type in a green uniform screamed at me in Chinese. I tried to ignore him and keep walking but by then I was surrounded by five or six more green rent-a-soldiers, all yelling, pointing at my camera and pointing at me. OMG. This can't be happening!
The soldiers kept yelling stuff like "Stop right there!" and "Hand over your camera!" and "I think we got us a terrorist spy here, caught in the act!" and "20 years in the gulag for her!" At least that seemed to be the gist of what they were saying in VERY expressive Chinese.
I'm screwed. I'm screwed. I'm screwed.
"English? Does anybody here speak English?" I blubbered. "I'm an American and this is MY consulate," I cried, trying to sound brave -- but it came out more like a whine as I took turns pointing at the consulate and pointing at me. Then the soldiers all went into a huddle to discuss strategy and while they weren't looking, I seriously actually considered swallowing my camera's memory card, but as quickly and surreptitiously as James Bond I managed to pocket the card instead. Hey, I gots photos of my grandchild on this card! My mission? To protect baby Mena's image at all costs!
Then the Shenyang police arrived. I wonder if Chinese jails have orange jumpsuits. Orange isn't a good color for me....
Then the head rent-a-soldier borrowed a policeman's cell phone and called up someone at the consulate. "What should we do with this grandmother ring leader terrorist criminal?" I think he said in Chinese.
"Send her to Guantanamo," must have been the reply. But cooler heads prevailed and the police officer in charge took a more realistic view of things apparently. I guess he knew what real criminals looked like and, frankly, I didn't fit the profile -- not many job opportunities for senior-citizen crooks.
"Where is your passport?" he asked.
"Back at the hotel." So they frog-marched me off to a patrol car and then to my hotel, and it was all totally embarrassing to have the entire staff of the hotel see me dragged through the front door in chains.... Well maybe not in chains. But it was still very embarrassing. And how was I going to explain to my children that they can't even let me out of their sight for one moment before I'm causing international incidents. I can just hear Ashley now. "What are we going to do with you, silly Mommy...."
Anyway, the nice police officer put me on the phone to someone at the consulate with a Chinese accent but at least he spoke English. "Are you a professional journalist?" he grilled me.
"Nope. I honestly can't say that I am. At least nobody's ever paid me so far..." But then it was my turn to ask questions. "Is it illegal to take photos of the consulate?" I asked. "Do I need a lawyer? What are they charging me with? What's your name?"
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