Wednesday, August 13, 2008

All Along the Watch Tower

About 8 hours after it happened I went to Beijing's 13th Century Drum Tower, next to another popular tourist/historical site Bell Tower, with a female British freelance journalist pal who speaks fluent Chinese to try to get some more info on the fatal stabbing of Todd Bachman, the Olympics US volleyball-related tourist killed over the weekend during a visit to a popular Beijing tourist sites.

The Bell and Drum towers are magnificent nearly identical watch towers still in an area of Beijing not demolished in favor of shopping malls or apartment complexes. Either raised a question, however. The knife-welding murderer was described by Chinese press as a depressed, divorced, unemployed sort-of lone gun, er, lone knife man who supposedly jumped from the top of the Bell Tower in a suicide dive after killing Todd Bachman, wounding Bachman's wife and their Chinese tour guide. Looking at the towers, though, begs the question that due to the overhanging Chinese swallow roofs jumping from one roof would take you perhaps 8-10 feet to the next one. Unless the killer was an an off-duty Chinese Olympic swan diver able to leap over the lower roofs or acrobat who rolled over the first roof to the next and down again, it wouldn't be an exactly easy fall to your death. Conspiracy freaks, have fun!

One of my favorite BJ hangouts after dark is the Bell and Drum bar and cafe, a small and intimate spot very near the new death zone with the finest, largest hamburgers in the Middle Kingdom with a rooftop view. Watch your step, though, descending after burgers and beer...a very steep staircase under the influence.

Todd Bachman's death shocked the bjeezuz outta me when I first saw the crawl on CNN Intl TV a few hours after it happened: "American murdered at Beijing Olympics." China is nothing if not safe, expecially for foreign barbarians. I've felt more threatened going a block or two from my old Colfax Avenue work site at the downtown Denver Rocky Mountain News at midnight to a public parking lot then lost in translation and location in Beijing at gawd knows where at the same time or later.

Calling a pal on-duty at the largest Chinese, English-language newspaper for which we work for more info did little good. The paper is on currently on unrelenting full-court press "One World, China's Dream" coverage and had naturally sent no one to do any first-hand reporting, instead reluctantly relying on the brief and incomplete, also State-owned Xinhua press service report that was buried on page 5. (Meanwhile, three days later a story about the murders of 2 Chinese grad students in Newcastle, England was part of our front page news. Subtle Message? It's all safe and glorious in China, but you venture outside and are Chinese you're doomed!)

Here's a small sample of what I heard through translation when I arrived with my Brit friend to poke around at the Drum Tower hours after the death. A Chinese crowd was plentiful and talking amongst itself, but not easily to outsiders. No trace of splatter from the supposed sucide killer. Meanwhile a group of drunk German Olympic tourists were videotaping themselves singing Happy German Ubermench Soccer and Beer Songs in the plaza between the towers.

British journalist Chinese-speaking pal to neighborhood old guy: "Excuse me, uncle, did you see or hear anything about the foreigner killed today?'

Old Chinese neighborhood guy: "Nothing happened, except what you see on TV. Why do you ask? What country are you from?"

Fluent Chinese Speaking Brit pal : "I am from England, I am just curious if you or anyone here saw or heard anything and might tell me more."

Old Chinese neighborhood guy : "You are from England? Why do you care? The dead man was an American."

One World, One Dream, indeed...

1 comment:

Chuck said...

I have taken a walk from Colfax to the Downtown YMCA (where a bunch of 13 year old basketball players under my insufficient guidance were staying) and we were relieved of any meager change we were carrying, so I know the fear. And this was almost 40 years ago!!! Hope you are well. Enjoy the ongoing commentary on the Olympics. The sky looks almost blue on HDTV. I keep looking for you in the crowd! Be well. Heading back to Lincoln in a week or so for a quick trip so I'll say hi for you to everyone we know.