Beijing Diaries: An unscheduled meeting with Chinese Police, or my minutes as an accused counterfeiter


The Beijing 2015 World Champs were a wonderful experience. It was my second time in China and I loved visiting the Birds Nest stadium for the second time. Mostly, I enjoyed interacting with the Chinese people, visiting small restaurants and enjoying ten days and nights of dramatic track & field.

In college, under the thoughtful guidance of Professor Kidder Smith, I studied Chinese History and the rise of Marxism in China. I had become fascinated with both ancient and modern history of the great country. Visiting China had only taken me until the age of 50, and that was fine. I can be a patient man. My desire to travel began when I was twelve and asked my mom to go to Isreal to work on a kibbutz. At 14, I wanted to work on a collective farm in the Soviet Union. Mom declined both trips, citing her need to have me around until 18. (At age of 55, I went to Moscow for first time. A note from my mother came, telling me that she thought I was ready to visit the country of Dostoyevsky and Turgenev.)

I had promised the brothers Johnson at that I would write about my experience with the Chinese police In Beijing in 2015. And now, at 3 am, as I am preparing to leave for my trip to Orlando, I thought I would provide the story.

5E0F1188-903A-4DC5-8CCF-826612C5B84F.JPGMy "office" from Beijing, August 2015, photo by Larry Eder

When one goes to an Olympic or World Championships, the schedule of morning sessions and evening sessions is difficult. I would make it for decathlon and heptathlon morning sessions, but there were days when, staying up to 2 am or 3 am writing, would just get to you. I was about three miles each way from the Birds Nest, and several nights, I would walk most of the way to my Holiday Inn, enjoying the cool air. One of the reasons was the wonderful habit of the taxi drivers in Beijing. A taxi fare for a few miles was less than $3. As smart taxi drivers, pragmatic at best, would search for a good taxi fare, one would get turned down ten to twelve times a night by taxi drivers with a wave of the arm. Your taxi fare would not help in their economic goals, so, walk home.

6FE29428-E89D-4A4B-8A1C-04846475FC70.JPGView of Beijing from window in my hotel room, August 2015, photo by Larry Eder

Most nights, after finishing writing, I would leave the Birds Nest stadium, and walk out the same gate, with a young Chinese soldier, standing at attention. I would always say hello, and after a few nights, the young (19 or 20) soldiers, standing at attention, might smile and say hello.

On my long walk home, I would go by a noodle house, open until the wee hours. I would point at the menu, normally getting a huge bowl of broth, and perhaps some meat product that might be compared to dodgy sausages in the U.S. or U.K.

One of those nights, I was fortunate to find a taxi home. As I was leaving my taxi, I went to pay the driver with a 100 remninbi (or yuan), which was $13 dollars in 2015 ($15 now). The Chinese driver motioned that the paper money was not good. He scratched the currency as I had seen others do. Apparently, there was a problem (which is true) with counterfeiting in China. We had heard about money from ATMs that were counterfeit. So, the taxi driver had me exchange three 100 yuan bills before I had given him a good one.

I left the taxi, and heading to my Noodle palace. Same young girl and young cook. I was only American in the place each night and they were nice to me, even though non of us spoke the other's native language. That does not stop me from trying to communicate.

I enjoyed my bowl of soup and fascinating model of a hot dog type product. It had the taste of spam on a difficut day. Boxed meat was a staple of mine in college, as it was light on the wallet, and I always had a light wallet in college.

As I went to pay at the end of my meal, the young woman made it clear that the bill I provided was not good. I provided another and she took that. The following morning, I went to the mall and asked the store owner to tell me if the money was good or bad. They said it was bad and called the police. Soon, a street cop, reminding me of the American TV character made famous by the late Peter Falk, (Columbo), entered the seen. He would ask the young man who spoke English to ask me questions. I gave him my three counterfeit bills, which he put in a plastic bag. He wrote all my comments, translated into Chinese, on a small notebook, with a pencil.

I thought that was that.

The next morning, the hotel staff called me and said that I needed to be down in the lobby at 7:30 AM. There were several police there to see me. I went down for breakfast, and then, met the police. I was taken to a room behind the hotel staff offices. In the room were four police officers, and four pages, apparently of a report on the incident.

One of the police, a young man in his thirties, spoke fluent English. From him, and after several questions, it became quite clear that I was the suspect in the counterfeit money laundering. On my cell phone, I texted my son, Adam in San Francisco and asked him to contact my lawyer. My text: " I am being detained by Chinese police, not going well. This is not a joke. Call Perry."

The conversation went from bad to worse, as I was asked to put my fingerprints on each of four pages, sign them and I was not able to take pictures of the pages. Only when I produced a receipt from the taxi driver did the police seem to relax and the conversation seemed to go better.

I was released after 45 minutes, which seemed a bit longer. My call to my lawyer was humorous. " You can not go to China without being arrested can you?". My lawyer was referring to an incident in Beijing in 2008 (another column). I was then told to speak to the American embassy.

559F5124-84E9-4677-B6E5-884DC00136A8.JPGYour author, in his time as an accused counterfeiter, Beijing 2015

I called the American embassy. The embassy attache was quite nice. He kept it light, and noted, 1) counterfeiting is a big deal in China, 2) I had done quite well on my own, and 3) he did help me find the humor in the incident.

Right after that, I went to the hotel front desk. They reminded me that my hotel stay was up the next day and that I was scheduled to leave China. With my J5 Visa, I was only allowed fifteen days, as a member of the media.

A colorful incident in a wonderful visit to China. I want to go back and spend some time seeing historical sights, enjoy long walks and enjoy the fusion of Chinese culture and western culture.

Another incident for my upcoming novel.

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