Our fearless leader, China Spree guide Mao “Jim” Chen, loaded the forty-eight of us onto a very nice tour bus and headed us away from Shanghai for a tour of Suzhou and the Master of the Nets Garden; and Tongli, Venice of the East. Alas, the journey was not without some degree of international intrigue, high anxiety (for some), drama (for all), and comedy (at least to me), as you’ll soon see.
Our bus was pulled over by Gomer Pyle (the tall one) on the outskirts of Suzhou. After a brief discussion we were once again on our way into the heart of Suzhou, only to be pulled over again once we were inside the city limits. Our driver had committed a major offense worthy of a fine that translates to somewhere around $10,000 U.S. You read that right — ten grand. Ten large. Ten really big ones. Probably enough to ensure that our driver was going to be fired from his job because $10,000 is very likely close to what he clears over a sizable portion of the year . . . if he’s lucky. But things got worse. The bus was confiscated so we would have to await a replacement. And then, as we toured the Master of the Nets Garden, Deputy Fife arrived and began surreptitiously questioning trailing members of our party without the knowledge of our tour guide up ahead.
Several of us refused to answer Deputy Fife (badge number 050420), and we advised others in our group to do likewise. By this time Jim Mao had retraced his steps to see what (or in this case who) was holding up some of his flock. This is where things got both heated and ugly, as Deputy Fife kept trying to implicate Jim and China Spree in this major infraction committed by a contracted bus line with no direct affiliation with China Spree. Apparently Officer Pyle was in on the bust of his life and he had called in his superior in an attempt to shut down the entire criminal enterprise . . . including we tourists and our alleged ringleader Jim.
By now you’re probably wondering why we were being jacked around. Drug smuggling? Gun running perhaps? Espionage? Suspicion of crimes against the state? Running a rolling combination gambling casino and hooker emporium out of our tour bus maybe?
Nope. A lot worse than any of that, apparently. So, what garners at $10,000 fine and confiscation of a tour bus in China? That’s what happens when your bus driver forgets to attach to the front of the bus a sign displaying his authorization to travel to and from Shanghai into the neighboring areas — kind of like if there were a law here against someone with a Tennessee license plate accidentally venturing into neighboring North Carolina without displaying federal permission on the front of her Chevy Volt.
Yes, anxiety ran high among some of our group. Some had visions of us rotting away for five to ten in some Chinese hell hole surviving on rice and raw fish heads. But Jim managed to get the local gendarmes to back off. Indeed, he got into a rather heated yelling match with Deputy Fife as Officer Pyle pretty much shut his mouth and watched as his dreams of busting our whole group of dangerous felons shriveled up like some slimy slug accidentally crawling onto a layer of rock salt “gravel.”
By the way, I’d like you to take a look at Officer Pyle, the instigator of this little drama — the lawman who finds so inexcusable the inadvertent omission of posting a little sign on the front of a tour bus. Notice anything about his uniform? Something perhaps a tad different from that of Deputy Fife, whom he called in to assist on the grand bust of his career? No? Take another look:
A strip of unadorned Velcro above the breast pocket where Officer Pyle’s badge number should be. What a self-serving, two-faced, power-mad hypocrite, eh? By the way, notice the video camera in the left hand of Officer Pyle? He was using that as an intimidation factor, overtly filming members of our group and getting right in our faces until Jim told him to knock it off. That’s when I and others figured turnabout was fair play and began our own taping and picture taking sessions. Afterward I told Jim that I would be making Deputy Fife and Officer Pyle famous, and that’s why the tenor and tone of this particular blog differs from previous blogs in this series.
But don’t despair. Today’s slide show awaits you below, and I’ll have details of Suzhou on Wednesday’s blog.