Had a VERY interesting day. Headed out of Xian’s walled city early to visit the famed Terracotta Warriors – which was, as expected, fascinating. What we didn’t expect was returning to the city to find all the Japanese cars on the street smashed and overturned by angry protestors and our hotel at the center of a mass protest against Japan’s purchase of the Diaoyu Islands. China claims the islands and surrounding waters as theirs. Admittedly, we were a little naive, figuring well, once you flip cars over what more is there to do? I mean back home that happens after Celtics’ or Redwings’ losses doesn’t it? We thought we were looking at the end of the protests. Then we reached the hotel. It was hard to figure out where the protestors ended and the spectators began, but the crowds were huge. After watching the excitement in front of the hotel, we spent most of the afternoon and evening wandering around, away from the action, trying to figure out a way to get to into the hotel and hoping things would quiet down.
It was during another futile attempt to cross the crowd to the hotel that we saw the riot police guarding the hotel’s front and side entrances. We surrendered again and walked away from the action. We had a leisurely dinner dinner at a small restaurant away from the masses hoping time would disperse the crowds. Six or so blocks away from the protests you wouldn’t know anything was happening. As we ate, we watched through the restaurant window unscientifically monitoring the foot traffic – hoping more people were moving away from the Bell Tower than toward it. Just as we were readying to leave the restaurant it started to rain. (Today was the ONLY day we left the hotel without our rain jackets or an umbrella.) Using the translation app on my iphone I asked the waitress whether there was a store nearby where I might by an umbrella. I figured if we had to stay at some other hotel, I’d like the clothes I was wearing to be a little dry; they were all we had. In a wonderful act of kindness the waitress walked me, shielded beneath her umbrella, to a store a block away so I could buy an umbrella. Very sweet—and what I will most remember about today.
The now enormous angry crowd back at the Bell Tower was not as accommodating. More police had arrived – several hundred more. They kept pushing us farther from the hotel. It was raining and getting dark. Suddenly came the realization that this was real. I mean really real. We were in the middle of a mess, unable to communicate with 99% of the people around us. The scariest moment occurred when Jack and I got separated and couldn’t find each other for the longest ten minutes of my life. I had no idea where he was, nor did he know where I was. (There’s a longer story to this but let’s just say, if my husband were too “manly” to use a girly umbrella, I might never have spotted him across the street.) 🙂 I pushed my way to him literally screaming his name in slow-motion movie fashion. Somehow, he heard me.
Reunited I felt a little better but those who know me, know that sometimes I just get, well, impatient. By then I really had sort of had enough. The police were there. Police are supposed to help you. If I couldn’t get back to the hotel, fine; I just wanted to know one way or the other. (I didn’t know until later that protestors had earlier actually been occupying the hotel.) Finally in the manner that makes my husband crazy, I took my trusty iPhone and literally marched over to a line of policeman with the Chinese translation of “We are staying at the Bell Tower Hotel. What should we do?” on the screen. I held it up in the face of one officer. Nearby was a woman from hotel reception who spotted me and came over as I spoke(?) to the police. As the officer read my phone she told us that the Assistant Manager and most staff had left the hotel and that there was still some violent clashing. But with her help we were able, by police escort, to get into to the hotel through a back entrance, where there were still more riot police. The elevators weren’t working so we climbed the dark unlit stairways to the fifth floor, passing other guests using flashlights on their way down. Once in our room we started packing, not knowing whether we could actually get back out, or where we might go if we could leave, but we wanted to be ready. We made a pile of stuff we’d be willing to sacrifice to lighten our luggage in case we had to carry/roll it a good distance. As we packed there came a knock on the door. We both froze and exchanged uncertain looks illuminated by flashlight. After checking the peephole Jack opened it. Housekeeping wanted to finish cleaning our room and give us fresh towels. Surreal? Totally. We told the gracious woman, we’d manage with the towels from earlier in the day. Oh, and by the way, we would like to check out.
We’re still here. Probably for the night. Things are quieter – the square is nearly empty of “students” as I write this.
While we were still a few blocks away the protestors stormed the lobby and first two floors breaking windows, walls, throwing bottles and rocks. The riot police – maybe a hundred of them are still stationed downstairs as all the hotel’s glass walls at street level are gone. Smashed. The doors are gone too. Much of the lobby and the stairway to the second floor is trashed. Overturned cars dot the street. Everyone’s cleaning up.
Why The Bell Tower Hotel? I asked that of a man who helped hoist me up on to the Bell Tower Garden so I could get a better photo. Through broken English a twenty-something young woman told me the protestors believed Japanese students and tourists were staying at the Bell Tower. Perhaps they were—along with a much larger number of Chinese, Australian, European and other Western tourists.
Anger is such a blinding emotion.
Tomorrow we leave as scheduled for Shanghai, we hope.
The following morning: