Ladalizing the Liberian

Ladalizing the Liberian — Nov. 24, 2004

After three years in Shanghai and a year and a half in Beijing, one of the best things about living in China – as we have repeatedly bragged to family and friends  – was the how safe we felt here. The rose colored glasses came off last night when Tarzan the Liberian came crashing though our utility room window in the early morning hours.

At 1AM, awakening from a deep sleep, the lovely Susan asked me if I had heard the doorbell rung again and again. Up in a shot in nothing but skin, I carefully assessed the situation, then, after manfully assuring her that it must have been a prankster — if anything at all — and fell right back to sleep.

Not noticing her quiet retreat from the bedroom to the computer nook, I was again ripped from a comfortable bed after she came racing in to tell me that a big crash had occurred just a few feet from where she was Skyping with her sister. Together we tip toed, her in her nightshirt, me in my birthday suit, through the kitchen to the alleged scene of the break in. At this point I still did not take the situation seriously — Susan has a very dramatic side. But then she saw him, lying among the clean laundry, broken glass, and blood splatter. This time she had every reason to scream, and scream. We ran from the kitchen as he groggily moved towards us.

A glass doorway separates our kitchen from a computer alcove. The utility room where the intruder landed is right off the kitchen in the back and of course where all potential weapons (golf clubs, tennis rackets, etc) could be found. The unlockable glass door, which we shut immediately was the only barrier that separated the good guys from the bad guy. We all knew the doorway was only an illusion of safety but from behind it we felt very comfortable in screaming, “get the hell out, jump off the balcony (we’re on the second floor), no you are not coming in here, we can hear you, don’t you dare touch that door” and a few other blood curdling instructions that must have had him close wetting himself.

At this moment we had no idea how to get hold of Alan, ourr school security guy. After numerous promises to myself to always keep his number handy, I remembered that I had written it down in my planner, which on this evening was at school. We then tried the Internet but for usual reasons, our service was down. The first number in our staff handbook was the school’s CFO. After telling Susan that he would look up the number we needed, the phone went dead. No Internet, no phone, and now cut off from world. We began to believe the story our intruder had told us — the one with  three men chasing him with knives.

The Dirctor was second on our list. In the first few seconds with him the connection went from bad to real bad. Fortunately, we had enough of a connection to hear him assure us that a call was in to Alan, our security guy — minutes later, still nothing.

The instruder was beginning to go psycho. He was worried that the guys with knives would find him. He seemed to be counting on us and the help we were trying to reach to save him. But where was the help to save us — from him.

Alan finally got back and assured us that the diplomatic police had been called. Minutes later they called and began asking the most bizarre questions. In this twenty minute interview they asked who we were, where did we work, why were we in this country, why should they come, and why can’t we call our own security. And how about this — did we know the intruder? When we had finished answering all their questions they told us they could not come onto the grounds of a diplomatic compound.

Meanwhile… the crazed looney in our kitchen was losing his grip on reality, getting to the point of serious mayhem, and no one seemed to sense our urgency. I think, through all the phone calls, the lovely Ms. Susan projected a way too calm demeanor. Referring to our intruder as “this gentleman” and never raising her voice, she never projected the scared shitless state we both were in. At times I wanted to grab the phone and be more direct —  “get the f_ck over here, someone is going to die, where the hell is anyone to help us, there’s this crazed – not gentleman – motha_f_cking son of a bitch is about to go medievil on our poor librarian asses…and stuff like that, but to keep the situation cool, I let Susan do the talking.

Meanwhile, Charlie Manson Jr. kept begging us to let him out, all of us knowing he could have easily opened the door at any time. He kept coming close to the glass to show us how one of his teeth had been knocked out, how his hand had been cut and the resulting blood all over his hands. At one point he got down on his hands and knees, facing away from us, rocking back and forth and praying, all the while staring right at a full set of very sharp kitchen knives. Come on police, come on Alan, hello headlines: “It was reported today that two school librarians – peaceful people from America – were found brutally murdered in their apartment as the authorities tried to figure out who best to send help.

Oh yes, in another conversation with Alan the security guy, we were told that the authorities had asked if they should bring guns along. Well, how do we answer that? Can’t really imagine the cops in the US calling back to ask that question.

Meanwhile, Charlie is telling us that he was visiting a girl he had picked up in Sanlitun — the local bar district — and that three guys with knives interrupted his visit and threw him out of a fourth floor window. That is how he came to land on an entranceway roof close to our little open utility room window. The story changed later to him jumping out the window. In fact, much of the original tale changed considerably over the course of the evening. From the roof, he performed an amazing display of drug enhanced acrobatics by pulling himself up the building and through this tiny window, only to get hung up on a laundry pole which sent him reeling and crashing into an interior plate glass window.  This being the subsequent crash that startled poor Susan away from her Skyping.

At one point, Susan’s calm demeanor mislead Alan’s good sense, as he asked us, “did you offer him a cup of tea?” I guess there was no way for him to know, without us screaming a bit more, that there was this doped up, glassy eyed intruder within inches of us, on the brink of who knew what, and that we didn’t want to violate the only barrier – if only an illusionary one – that kept Charlie away from us and that a good cup of tea might indeed have been nice, but this was probably not the time. At the moment he made this insane suggestion, the only thing I had thought to give our guy was hot lead.

In the meantime, we were able to get a bit more up front and personal with Charlie. Small but endearing facts; like the $2,000 buckaroos he had in his pocket, the USD denaros that daddy had supposedly given him for a little trip to Bankok the next day. Oh yes, and that his dad was a Liberian ambassador in Holland, and that he had left his laptop behind when he was thrown from the window, and how his leg was broken, although he was walking around fine. At one point he turned off the light so the bad guys with knives could not see him from our kitchen window, although he kept giving them a good target by constantly going to the window to look out. This was the eeriest moment. We had to keep a light on in our hallway, but the reflection it cast on the darkened kitchen window left him barely visible. Every time he would come close to the door it was as if he had popped up in a minstrel show. Opening wide to show us what a tooth socket looked like without a tooth was a dental lesson we would not soon forget. Although I had to urgently pee after standing guard the whole time, no way was I leaving Susan. She had to bring me a water bottle that I politely turned to one side while not missing a drop.

Susan contiued to engage him in death at our doorstep small talk, but after too much time had passed, and after he repeatedly told us that he welcomed the arrival of the police, and after he had seen us again and again and again on the phone with no result, his agitation level began to suggest he was about done being polite .

Plan B had to be put into effect. We had not dared go outside, seriously believing that guys with knives were somewhere out there. But as he started going further and further into psycho land, Susan rounded up shoes, wallets, cell phones, passports and heavy coats. We decided that if need be, we would make a run for it and take our chances outside. The most serious protection we were able to come up with was a two-foot long wooden ladle we had bought in Chile. When I started holding onto this in front of Charlie, he must have thought – dinnertime? These stooges — crazier than me? I was ready, willing, and able to ladel a bunch of hurt on this guy.

Back to the phone calling. Allen at another time asked if we were Americans and did we want him to call the US Embassy? Had this guy been drinking? But, Susan had the phone and said something like, sure why not. If it had been me, I again might have yelled something like, I don’t give a flying f_ck who you send, just get them the f_ck over here, this guy is starting to unwind. Somehow, someone finally got a message to our embassy to get the idiotic diplomatic police over to us before the bloodbath began.

But before the cops arrived, after two agonizing hours, Charlie disappeared. We saw him go back into the little window but could barley make out what he was about to do. A few minutes later we heard a pounding and more pleas for help. He was now on the same roof he had originally fallen on, and we only learned later that he was asking that the hall window by the stairway be opened so he could make his final exit. We also noticed his watch on this roof the next morning and remembered how he constantly was looking at his wrist in disbelief that the watch was not there.

During these two longest hours of our lives, we were on the verge of sympathizing with Charlie Manson Jr., but knowing the way he must have put himself in harms way, the way he sacred us to death, the perceived threat to our lives, kept us easily at a distance.

When the police guys finally showed up they were relaxed, no guns drawn, no guns at all. They found Charlie freezing on the roof. The first thing they said when they saw him on the roof was, “how we get him down?” After all the other bizarre questions the police asked that night I was not too surprised with latest question. I wanted to say, why don’t you just shoot him down? When they had finally rounded him up, he was escorted back  to our apartment to ask us if this indeed was the one. After looking out one more time to see if there were dozens more Liberian crazy men swinging around the rooftops, I said yes, this was the guy. They hauled him to the kitchen and pointed to where we told them he had broken in and they yelled at him, “you go there” pointing to the window. As they escorted him out in handcuffs, he said to us, “please speak for me.” We didn’t know what to say other than he didn’t hurt us, he was just a desperate kid, what do you say? His last words as he was calmly walked out our door, were “go with Joshua and his children.” PSB asked no questions. They did call the next day to take a report — a report that included our names, Susan’s first name, what we were doing in China, where was our school, and what was the damage. That was it.

After the police left, at about 5:30 AM, we hugged each other and I fell dead asleep while Susan did some serious phone calling to her sister. At 7AM Tom the Director called and generously offered to get us subs — and to see if we were still alive.  But if Tom had not called, hard telling when we would have woken up.

The management of the compound came later that day to see the damage. At least seven or eight people viewed with amazement how this kid climbed from the roof he initially landed on, to our tiny window. In the early morning I had seen his watch, but by the time the management came, someone had grabbed it and ran. The managers were very apologetic, but between all the people involved, and all the people we knew and have known in China, no one could ever remember something like this happening. They told us the police were usually stymied whenever any kind of foreigner was involved and that they tried to stay clear. We still don’t know if these were regular PSB guys or the special diplomatic police that were promised.

This could be a useful cautionary tale if lessons are to be learned. We have taken our safety for granted for so long that I think we can do better in the future. Now that we know we are on our own if anything happens, we need contingency plans. In the two hours that many people tried to decide how best to help, we could have been sliced and diced and carried out in a suitcase. Only Richard called back one time to check to see if anyone had arrived. No one else ever called to see if we were still alive or how we were doing until the morning.

Now, after having just that much more to be thankful for this Thanksgiving Day, I know we need:

1)    A phone by our bed

2)    A better, bigger weapon than our precious wooden ladle — kept by our bed

3)    All emergency numbers including, Allen, Richard, our compound emergency number, and our embassy emergency number. Not to mention a couple of big guy friends we know will come under any circumstance.

4)    And next time, I will take what the lovely Susan says seriously, the first time – I think

And in the end… we never heard another word about this incident. Nothing from school, the cops, or the US Embassy. We have no idea what happened to the intruder. In time we did feel sorry for this kid. He did not mean us any harm and he was scared to death. The only understanding we could bring to this affair occured after learning a number of things concerning Chinese relations with many African nations. China desperatley needs minerals they can only get from countries like Liberia — the home country of our intruder. During the time we lived in downtown Beijing, we often wondered how, in this heavily policed city, the main streets where we lived could sustain such a heavy, illegul drug trade — with impunity. Not hard to imagine now. Unlike Tibet, where the governemnt can do anything they wish, they have to be nice to African nations to get what they want.

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