Episode 7 of Betrayed: a tale of Christmas spiritual pollution, Series 2 of our ‘The Truth Lies in Bedtime Stories, from See Through News‘ podcast
A Beijing Bus Stop Reveals its Mystery Waiting Passenger – was he Betrayed?
The second series of our podcast The Truth Lies In Bedtime Stories takes place over 30 minutes or so on the morning of December 25th 1984, in Beijing.
For best results, start from Episode 1 – The Staircase
In Episode 7, we learn about the mystery man at the bus stop, even if Calum and Robert don’t.
If you enjoyed this series, please share it with others, and try our other stories.
- Series 1: The Story of Ganbaatar: the only deep sea navigator in Mongolia
- Series 3: Life on the Edge: Taiwan, China, America and the Moment I Realised Mrs. Wang Was Mostly Guessing What Her Husband Said
Written, Produced & Narrated by SternWriter
Audio Production by Samuel Wain
Betrayed is a podcast by The Truth Lies in Bedtime Stories, from See Through News.
See Through News is a non-profit social media network with the Goal of Speeding Up Carbon Drawdown by Helping the Inactive Become Active.
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Episode 7: Dapper Man
Hazy in Beijing’s dust-filled winter air, the bus’s outline gradually appeared, and then loomed, above the flow of cyclists filing along the straight road.
It would be a minute or two before anyone could discern its number.
Dapper Man hadn’t moved a muscle. Having spotted the bus, the rest of the crowd turned back to catch the rest of the show. There was still time for some laowai entertainment before elbowing and jostling time.
It may have been a while since the foreigners had uttered an intelligible Chinese word, but it was still gripping stuff.
Robert was still reporting what he’d gleaned from the Dutch PhD students at the dorm.
‘Wim’s mate said it was quite common for class traitors to be imprisoned in their homes or places of work. But they still found it amazing that Clock could have been so un-traumatised at being back in his jail cell’.
‘Maybe’, said Calum, ‘when a whole country of a billion people goes that crazy for a whole decade, it’s not such a big deal for any individual.’
As these words came from his mouth, Calum could feel them turning to ice, and falling at his feet. Robert discreetly ignored them. Both teenagers felt out of their depth, unqualified to even speculate on such matters.
Calum imagined telling this story to his friends back in Kirkaldy, and wondering how it would sound.
‘At least Clock was in Beijing, where his family’s from’, Robert eventually continued. ‘Millions of people with the wrong class background were exiled to dirt-poor villages, thousands of miles from home. Xiaxiang, they called it, being ‘sent down to the countryside’.
At this familiar Chinese word, some of the crowd looked at each other. The dapper man stretched his shoulders and shivered. Maybe it was the cold.
The bus number was almost visible now. Some of the crowd were getting jittery.
But Dapper Man resumed his previous stance, observant, but still unobserved by Calum and Robert.
Their audience now having re-formed as a rugby scrum, Robert peered over the backs of their heads at the approaching bus.
‘Nah, not this one’, Robert said, once he’d discerned the bus number.
The bus doors hissed open, revealing an apparently jam-packed bus, elbows jostled, and the miracle of passenger osmosis repeated itself.
A few of the crowd, having seen it wasn’t their bus either, instead jostled for front row positions in the free bus stop laowai show.
Dapper Man had remained motionless throughout, not even looking at the bus number. Calum and Robert noticed him, for the first time, before resuming their conversation.
Robert began relating what Wim’s mate, the one doing a PhD on Chinese translations of English literature, had told him about his new academic supervisor.
‘Apparently there are loads of veteran academics coming back now’,he said. ‘Wim taught me the characters – they call it ‘pingfan’.
With this, Robert sketched the characters on the palm of his hand, a reflex they’d picked up from Chinese, used when explaining which characters they mean.
Calum and Robert found it impossible to follow the imaginary brush strokes, and often joked about it by air-writing something with their hands facing themselves, and then displaying empty palms to each other.
Normally, one of them would have deployed this in-joke at this point, particularly as the fact that they were wearing thick gloves would have made it even funnier.
A peasant on a bicycle festooned with dozens of live geese heaved his way past. He was cycling carefully, and not very fast, but he still overtook another peasant who was holding a radio to his ear as he pedalled his flat-bed tricycle, occupied by a single beast.
The radio, inevitably, was playing One Way Ticket. His passenger was an enormous sow, hog-tied and contained in a kind of carrying cage fashioned from strips of bamboo.
Normally, this would have engaged Calum and Robert’s full attention, but neither of them even noticed this passing traffic.
As the honking, and One Way Ticket, faded away, they resumed their conversation.
‘The characters for ‘Pingfan’ mean something like ‘having your conviction overturned’, or ‘rehabilitated’. Robert said. ‘They use it when they bring back people with the wrong class background who’d been ‘sent to the countryside’ during the Cultural Revolution as class traitors’.
‘Zīběn zhǔyì zǒugǒu’. Now it was Calum’s turn to recall one of the Communist Propaganda phrases they’d been taught the previous year. ‘Capitalist Running Dogs’.
At this Chinese phrase, a ripple ran through their bus stop audience, but they were soon distracted as another bus emerged from the dusty haze, apparently borne along the river of bicycles that never seemed to stop flowing, certainly not on December 25th.
The bus began to decelerate, and all the crowd but one began to jostle for red-painted pole position.
The dapper eavesdropper, hands still clasped behind his back, somehow seemed to now be standing half a step closer.
‘Exactly’, said Robert. ‘The kind of people they’d call ‘capitalist running dogs’, are now having their sins absolved. They can now return home to the cities, and go back to their old jobs’.
‘What made them change their minds?’ asked Calum.
‘Wim said it’s because the universities suddenly value these people’s expertise more than whether they were a class traitor or not’, said Robert.
‘They’ve only just reintroduced university entrance exams. Until a couple of years ago, all they cared about was how extreme a Red Guard nutter you were. Now they want people who know more than how to wave the Little Red Book around and chant slogans’.
Dapper Man seemed about to say something, when Robert said.
‘Hang on, that’s a Number 380, we can take this one’.
Calum and Robert continued their conversation, as they joined their former audience in the waiting scrum.
Calum said, ‘So all these professors who’ve spent the past decade mucking out pig farms in Inner Mongolia, or threshing wheat in Xinjiang, thy’re now being – what did you call it?’.
‘Ping fanned’ – rehabilitated’ said Robert. ‘Wim’s mate, the one studying Chinese translations of Jane Austen? He’s just been assigned this new supervisor, who’s just been ‘ping fanned’.
‘Apparently he’s this incredible scholar, who was educated in English at a Jesuit college in Shanghai in the 30s. He was doing some post-doc in Oxford when the Communists took over, and after Liberation he came back to help rebuild the Motherland.’
The bus was only a few seconds from stopping now, and the jostling had intensified.
‘He was head of our Uni’s English department’, said Robert, ‘but got sent to Tibet in 1967 because his uncle had a servant, or something. Apparently he’s astonishingly smart and well-read, and talks like Mr. Darcey’.
Calum nudged Robert with his elbow. The two teenage students braced themselves by the red pole, knees bent, elbows akimbo, like speed skaters at th starting line.
It had the desired effect of parting the crowd, astonished that the monkeys were finally performing.
As the doors hissed, and the crowd began to envelop them, the dapper man addressed Calum and Robert.
In flawless English.
‘I beg your pardon, gentlemen. May I enquire if by any chance you might be British? An Englishman and a Scotsman, perchance?’
As the crowd closed around them, propelling them onto the bus, the Englishman and the Scotsman could only snap their heads back, nodding yes, open-mouthed. Now they were the astonished ones.
Before the doors closed on them, they thought they heard the dapper man say, almost to himself.
‘Ah yes, I thought as much. Your accents betrayed you’.