Casey’s story is continued here.
Honoring the glorious 60th National Day with song and dance was winding down and the obligatory speeches were beginning. My co-teacher and I had grown weary of sitting in front of what we thought was the entire school. Our chance to honor the Party was completed and the hard part of the day was finished.
We headed back through campus under the mysteriously blue sky. The sky usually had been gray and a formless wall above. The Party must have been preparing even the skies for the celebration. I grit my teeth in disgust at both the coal-choked skies and the unnatural blue only found after a horrendous amount of cloud seeding. I felt like one was putting a tragic, dangerous embarrassment under a spotlight and the other took that same embarrassment and covered it with a thin cloth and a sign that said, “Don’t look at this!” in bright neon letters. The whole celebration seemed like it was the same thing for the Party and even the school.
“So that went better than expected. Our girls were great!” my co-teacher said, bringing me out of my dark thoughts and back into the day of celebration. We took the first set of stairs up the dark stairs past the footprint-covered walls of the hallways. This set of stairs gave us a clear view down each deserted hallway, where broken doors and windows would normally be filled with the sounds of teachers orating and students repeating word and tone exactly. All of these people were out on the field, we thought.
As we reached our floor, we had begun to think of the comfortable chairs and the time we had until class began again, the hours of which could be easily filled with snoozing or reading. It was a great thought for a few moments, but the long view to our office, which was at the very end of the straight hall. We noticed that we were not actually alone in the building. In fact, we were not the only people in the building, but we were not even the only people trying to use our office. A group of four boys were holding the locked door to our office shut, trapping someone within. Well, our office had been locked.
We ran down the hallway in defense of our sanctuary. The one place in the school we felt comfortable and safe from the horrors of the day in the school. When students kept us close to tears, we at least had the warm blanket of the office to pull over our heads for a few minutes. We stored our good feelings there. But at this moment, we stored more than that. My backpack was in there. In it was my passport, arguably the most valuable thing I had in my possession.
We yelled in English and began running toward them. With the same fervor I felt when I strode into a group of twenty boys to break up a fight, I shoved them out of the way, throwing the door open with a fury. From within the room, one of the boys previously trapped by his friends tried to bolt past us. We held him and sat him down in one of our chairs. It looked like there would be no rest and relaxation for us today. He made jokes, he pleaded with us for freedom, told us they had made him do it, and much more I was unable to comprehend. Our sanctuary had been violated. The final keep of safety had been stormed. To put it dramatically, I felt as one who has come home to find the front door wide open and the home cleared out. I only felt moderately saner after checking my bag for my passport.
I kept the young man company while my co-teacher ran to get someone who could actually discipline the boy. The other boys had run off when we cornered their friend, reacting exactly as one would expect them to, effectively abandoning him to our mercy. It was a shame we couldn’t hold them as well, but he kept us busy all the same. He was about sixteen and chubby, but that didn’t stop him from trying to bolt while we teachers were separated.
A few minutes and three escape attempts later, my co-teacher returned to the office with another teacher in tow. We explained the situation to her, assuming that she had some authority over the boy. She insisted that we allow him to explain himself as well. I was unable to understand the conversation, but I could pick up bits from when she would turn to us and confirm points. Most of the time, she would tell us things like, he says you are lying to me. I was shocked to hear that she almost believed him. In addition, it seemed as there was a problem with us disciplining the boy as he later revealed that he didn’t actually go to the school and we were not allowed to punish those who didn’t.
We protested vehemently, telling her the truth again. How could we be in the wrong to report and detain him regardless of whether or not he was a student there. Didn’t that make his crime even greater? Somehow, she couldn’t understand how scared and upset we were that an unauthorized “guest” had been in our room. It was as if private spaces meant nothing. Cultures collide and even though the boy had been fully in the wrong, I had a sneaking suspicion that our feelings and what was right meant nothing to either party.
The boy was eventually shown away and we didn’t see him again but he taught us to trust no public or private space in China for a long time.