Liao Yiwu is a Chengdu native and he recently escaped over to Berlin via the Horse and Tea Trade Route pathways of southern China. Reading his story today reminded me of a few things.

Ever since I have lived in China, I imagined my escape route. There are a few, but the Yunnan-Guangxi one is the best. I rode a bike across the border at Mengla and no one checked me. I even went to the massive casino there and played some Texas Hold-Em with cigarette-skinned northerners while I waited for my visa to China to come through. The visa they attached to my passport was a piece of paper. Handwritten. It lasted all the way to Chengdu where I turned it into an F visa. Those were the days …

I still imagine what I would do, if the poop ever hit the fan here. Steal a car and do a midnight run to the border? Don the chupas I bought in Litang and hike into Tibet with my family lying on a travois behind me? Make a run for Xinjiang? Slip across the grasslands of Mongolia, ruins of the Great Wall the only witnesses to my furtive gait?

I throw a fist up for Liao.

His story also reminded me of conversations I have had with Chinese friends over the past ten years. Conversations laced with despair and resignation. Tinted with hope that I might help them out. Get them across the border. Get their kids across the border.

The other day I had one of those conversations with a man in a hot tub at the foot of Emei Mountain. It started like they always do, where am I from, what am I doing, how do I like it …

Then we talked about buying homes and the future and children and the man started pouring his heart out to me. He is a poor man from Inner Mongolia and his wife is a poor woman from Gansu. They met in Chengdu while at university and through hard work and intelligence built a home and a life. He works at the Hi-Tech Zone, she works for a software company. Mom-in-law takes care of their kid. He is middle class now. Has a car. Makes good money; together he and his wife put back 5-6k a month. Maybe more. He is in great shape, handsome. Educated. The wife breastfeeds; they want better schooling for their kid. They think of sending him to a private school, to an international school. Not dream … think. Big difference.

He said, “I’ll never save enough to be anything but a peon.”

“I came here ten years ago with my classmates and we drew the pagoda above Baoguo Temple. I remember it like it was yesterday. We were filled with hope, with passion, with dreams for the future. I am back here now, but not one of my friends will ever come back here. We dont have the time to get away. No time to re-visit these sites and replenish our spirits. How could ten years have gone by so quickly?

“I work all day. No one in my company is doing well. We have more money, better homes, better appliances, but we are not happy. How could that be?”

“There was a time, once, when my wife would have supported me as an artist. but not anymore … those days are gone.”

“How could this be? I am only 32, but my life is over. There is nowhere to go. Nowhere to turn.”

“I am imprisoned.”

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Sascha Matuszak

11 thoughts on “Imprisoned

  1. Pingback: Hao Hao Report
  2. And of course, the only place to be shackle-free is in the mind.

    All else is heavy and begs the lightness of daydreams — whether they are about pagodas or hammocks or mini mountains in Dingle… we must cling to them as if they’re the only things left…

    and they are.

  3. I’ve got a stash of USD in case I find myself running across the border if it all comes down. I read somewhere other people who’ve fled before went through prayer groups. I always thought I’d do that. Neither as detailed nor romantic as your escape plans.

    I hadn’t thought of the people stuck in a bad way here as needing an escape before. Interesting stuff.

  4. As always Sascha, nice piece. Funny thing is, I was the guy in the hot tub when I was living in Canada and America. China was my “escape”. Except, I was 24 and my life was already over. Sooner or later people will realize that a middle class existence anywhere is just a slow and tedious crawl to the grave.

    I also threw a fist in the air for Liao. His story is a good one, hope it stays that way.

  5. @ Richard yeah bro feels good

    @ peeps Well i ended the conversation by telling him that giving up is death, being trapped is just a situation. So after I while I learned that he had the contact numbers for hundreds HR managers of companies in Chengdu’s Hi Tech Zone. I told him about a friend of mine who is running a headhunting business of sorts. I saw the energy hit his face.

    Perhaps imprisonment is the mother of invention.

  6. 如果苦无出路代表30岁的小中产,那我周围20岁的人要不无感,要不无力。无力感比较糟糕还是觉得没有出路比较糟?

    1. Well, you haven’t actually set up opposites to compare 😉
      I think not knowing that you are trapped is horrible.
      Knowing you are trapped and feeling you have no way out is equally horrible.
      Being trapped and struggling is life.

      1. yea, I didn’t set up opposites but I wasn’t trying to. You’re absolutely right about not knowing one is trapped. There’s no such thing called blissful ignorance. But what I’ve seen among my peers is apathy, indifference to what they know, which is more horrible. It could be a self-protection mechanism for knowing one’s trapped? I guess the man in a way is more lively than my apathetic friends since he has to struggle to make his way out.

        Sorry that I’m not responding to your message in this post. Your story of the man is vivid and it keeps me thinking.

        On another note. I did think about escape route back in the first time I couldn’t log in to my gmail account. Maybe I should make my next travel plan to test out the route. It’ll be interesting to find out what it takes to leave my own country.

  7. hey vic. sorry i didn’t respond earlier … but there is not much for me to respond cuz it looks like your mind and spirit are in good shape. I guess just keep on keepin on 😉

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