Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Residents are Angry

For days, residents chatted excitedly among themselves in the apartment complex where I'm staying, while cops watched wearily from their patrol cars just outside the gate. The compound is perhaps the most expensive in the neighborhood, beautifully landscaped with lush plants and flowers and with a tiny muddy river running through it.

The agitation came from the river--the government wants to clean up the river and turn the banks into public recreation areas with boat docks and bike tracks. Not a bad idea considering how polluted the river is right now. But the residents are angry--as property owners, they had not been consulted before being told that walls would be built along the banks and their apartment compound's land would shrink.

That would decrease the value of our property! One resident seethed.

Owners' association organized late-night planning meetings and public rallies. Huge banners unfurled from the top of the tallest building proclaiming the residents' "strongest resistance." On Saturday afternoon during a rally a resident was arrested after an altercation with a plainclothes cop. More confrontation. Riot police was called in. The intersection was jammed.

A resident said that he had taken photos of the plainclothes cop and he would post it on the Internet. Another chimed this is our property, they can't do whatever they want here; doesn't the government want a harmonious society; we are all for harmony here! (A beer-bellied cop chuckled awkwardly nearby.)

A day later I came down the building and saw two cops helplessly surrounded by angry residents again. Many were yelling "get off our property," "you don't have any right to be here." Even a kid learned fast--"Get out, cop!" he screamed at the top of his voice.

It's exciting that finally one hears some angry voices up close. Only confrontation begets negotiation which begets some semblance of true harmony.

Let one hundred voices bloom.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Christian Asylum

At one of my previous companies in Beijing, we sent one of the young colleagues to the US for training on a business visa. It took us quite some effort to get the visa for her. After she came back from that training, she worked for us for a few more months and then quit and used the same visa--not expired yet by then-- to go back to America.

She taught Chinese at some community center on the West Coast. Sometimes she sought my advice on MSN on how to find her ways in the US. School or no school? Which major? Before she left for the US, she had cried in front of me, feeling sorry for having to leave the company and uncertain what she could do in a foreign country. She swore that she had never planned to take advantage of our good intention (and visa sponsorship) in the first place, and it was accidental that she found a program in Beijing certifying Chinese tutors for foreigners. Despite my nagging suspicion of having been used, I remembered how difficult it was for me when I first moved to the US, so I replied to her queries. Plus, who am I to judge if she deserves to be able to go to the US so easily (while others, like my friends and I, had to study so hard to score high on the damn TOEFL and GREs to get our student visas)?

Tonight she pinged me again on MSN. She wondered if she should apply for a green card at her lawyer's urging.

Which category?

Political asylum for being a Chinese Christine.

I didn't ask if she is a Christine. That's moot. Every immigrant has a green card story, just as every New Yorker has an apartment story (at least for the not-so-wealthy ones). Immediately after 1989, all Chinese students living in the US automatically qualified for green card because they were considered to be at risk for government persecution if sent back in China. Many later Chinese immigrants applied for green cards under political asylum for allegedly having suffered from the Chinese government's one-child policy. Two of the illegal Fujianese immigrants at the restaurant where I waited table got their green cards that way. They were no more than 22 years old then.

What does the lawyer say is the success rate? I asked her.

96%. She quickly added that she had only asked the lawyer to help change her status into a student visa. It was the lawyer who had given her the idea of the green card, and she wondered if I think she should go after it.

How much?


I remembered my own struggle to get my green card. In my days of desperation I could have claimed any political asylum if not for the fact that I lacked the guts to make up police brutality stories. Now it's so easy for her--persecution of Chinese Christians is well reported in the Western media; likely she only needed to claim the Christian faith and the immigration would accept a reasonable likelihood of persecution if she has to return to China.

So incredibly easy, for she only needs to claim a faith she might not believe in. She had told me before that going to America this way was her only chance of escaping a commoner's boring life in China, making little money and seeing no bright future. Even God might forgive her for that.

"It seems to be worth it," I typed my comment. $4000 and 96% success rate.

Then I thought of those real Christians suffering for real in China. I thought of those really needing freedom instead of just a life better economically. Before I succumbed to my urge to pass some judgment, however, I thought of what America represented for me, once, and all those who fled there to escape a past and seek a future, however trivial to the nonchalant observers.

So I added--"But it's up to you." And your god.

"I know," she typed back.