Friday, February 11, 2005

"All the Federales say, they could have had him any day. They just let him slip away, out of kindness I suppose"
I was reminded of Townes Van Zandt's Pancho and Lefty this early evening in Shenzhen when I stopped by the covered outdoor "wet market" near the Lucky Number complex for some pirate DVDs on my way back from a food and beer run at a nearby 7-Eleven. C is out of town, some 2,000 or so miles away at her childhood home for the New Year holiday. It's nestled against the North Korean border, and she won't be back for a week or so. (I'd called her earlier today and she said she'd be spending part of the day midway on a border bridge between the two countries just checking things out. I asked her for souvenirs; with the recent NK statment boasting about having "nukes" -- as their official news release oddly put it -- I asked if she'd pick me up a small one. She demurred, but said she might be able to snag some Kim Il Sung/Kim Jong Il cigarettes and/or badges. Very cool. It's a little weird having a girlfriend who is spending her part of her holiday blithely touring the North Korean border, but another reason I like it here.
I had just concluded a deal for an eclectic assortment of illegal videos that included Finding Neverland, Sideways, as well as chestnuts such as Once Upon a Time in America, a French-Hong Kong production called Clean with HK star Maggie Chueng as a junkie and, surprise (until I see if it works) acclaimed Nazi 'ho filmmaker Leni Reifenstahl's Triumph of the Will. Money had passed hands and they were bagged in the traditional little plastic solid colored black bag signifying that you've bought something shameful, unlike groceries, pharmacuticals, condoms, liquor or sex toys which all come in opaque plastic white, green, red or blue bags for all the neighborhood and apartment elevator partners to glimpse.
Just as the deal was done, a low hum hubbub swept through the front entrance market crowd. The DVD pirate boyz immediately waved off other customers, shoved the out-of-container-goods back into the worn cardboard boxes where they'd been packed, and magically, impossibly melted into the fly-blown fish, poultry, veggies, beef, rabbit, pork, utensils, pots, pans and other sundries squalor within.
Outside a blue, beaten plainly marked SZ police jail van had suddenly pulled up. Standard issue here, they look like the paddywagons from the US/UK '20s-50s with a large cage rear, tiny vertical head-high bars on the padlocked exit door and a small cab. The driver was in a cop uniform, but from the passenger seat hopped an athletic, eager-looking 20ish guy in civvies, a cheap black and white acrylic horizontally striped sweater, brown jeans and worn blue tennies. SZ's version of an "undercover" cop, I'm thinking.
I wasn't wrong. He strode into the market entrance like he'd somehow magically hitched a ride in a cop van and was just dropped off and passing through and then began asking repeated questions in Mandarin that I didn't comprehend until I picked up the repeated phrase "DVD, DVD, DVD."
All still standing around ignored him or muttered "mei-oh" (basically, no-can-do) as I stood there with a black plastic sack full o' contraband gaping at this law enforcement charade. He finally shrugged ("No crime here, false alarm") and then hopped back into the paddywagon and they were on their way to another scene of no crime. It will all show up later, I'm sure in Official Shenzhen Law Enforcement reports regarding the miraculous drop in the pirate DVD trade here. Of course, it reminded me of the Barbeque SWAT farce (see: Rings of Fire 5/22/04) I'd witnessed last year and after I returned to the apartment I called my Temple Guy pal, James to laugh about it. He told me about a book another friend, Gary the Canadian Moondance owner, had read who'd just told him about what it said of the Opium Wars.
An emperor in cahoots with the trade had ordered his troops to "attack" the foreign pushers but not a lot, basically fire over their heads, and to retreat gracefully as they did so.
Apparently not a lot as changed.
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