June 13, 2008

They don't get many Japanese tourists around here

Today, my coworker Allie and I went up to a redevelopment zone on the north edge of Jinan. We had been told that a large area of wholesale markets would be demolished. We have been generally perturbed by the physical-determinist and design-centric planning process, but this seemed like a really bad idea. I wanted to go take a look and maybe get the "before" to the pile-of-rubble "after" that we see everywhere we turn in this city. I was walking through the market taking some snapshots when a security guard asked me what i was doing.

me: "just taking a pictures."
him: why? what do you mean? who are you?
me: uh...?
him: come with me!
me: I'm a student from Berkeley. [this means absolutely nothing to everyday people b/c they've never heard of it.] I'm working with the local planning bureau doing research.
him: this way!
me: uh... is it not ok to take pictures? are you a public peace [公安 i.e. police] officer?
him: I'M A SECURITY [保安 i.e. private] OFFICER.THIS WAY!

He leads me to a little office and I try to calmly explain who i am and what i'm doing. they are very suspicious. they don't really care. Really, they feel like i've trespassed and they want to exercise their authority over their domain. A seated woman starts barking at me, but i can't understand what she's saying. This is really annoying to her. They get the boss (of this tiny room). I try my story on him. He asks me for my ID and i show him my Cal ID. He doesn't look at it and pushes it back over to me. I ask him what he wants from me. He says to sit down.

Allie's not answering her phone, and i don't have any of the bureau people's names or numbers. They're unimpressed by my mention of the vice-director. I call a student at Shandong Uni and ask him to put his professor on the line. He tries to explain for me. The little Napoleon actually yells at the prof over the phone! He hangs up and hands my cell phone to me, seeming a little nicer. He says that I'm not supposed to take pictures without permission and that his workers will escort me. I thank him and apologize for the misunderstanding.

Sadly, this was misunderstanding number two. I thought he meant escort me around to take photos. Actually, i was being escorted over to another office! Finally, Allie returns my call. She sees us crossing the street but can't catch up b/c of all the traffic. We go into another building and start up a flight of stairs. i try and tell the guy that my friend will come and help to explain. He doesn't want to wait and tries to drag me up the stairs. I tell him to let go of my arm. I'm glad that he does. I tell him to just wait a second and explain to Allie how to find me. She finds us and the guy tries to tell her she can't come, but she shows some attitude and he relents.

We go into the manager's office of this mall, and sit down. Allie does most of the talking and they are disarmed by her being a woman and a foreigner. It goes back and forth for a while and they say that we can't photograph the market buildings from the inside or the outside. we try and explain that the market will be impacted by the redevelopment and that we just wanted to document the environs. They say that the project we're talking about is to the north and that we should go that way to see the space. We apologize for the misunderstanding and they let us go.

It turns out that this was misunderstanding number one. We had been told at a meeting at the planning bureau that this market would be torn down. Today, at the planning institute, we were told that this isn't the case. This raises other problems and questions about transportation and land-use planning, but that's another (more technocratic) story...

In the meantime, here's a photo of the bottom-less mannequins that i snapped just as the guard nabbed me.


jchen said...

It sounds like quite a hassle, but I think getting this photo was well worth it.

Anonymous said...

It is a scary story.