My Life as an Illegal Alien (pt3) – Fucking Rice!

This is Part 3 of this series, Part 1 is about how I got myself in prison and in Part 2 we get to meet my lovely roomies.

Day II

I woke at 6:30 sharp to the sound of trumpeting army-drill music blaring from the TV. It had been a cold and uncomfortable night and I hadn’t slept terribly well. I had chosen for myself the bed closest to the window and (for obvious reasons) furthest from the toilet. I made the bed in the preposterously technical manner as instructed and prepared for breakfast.

This was to be my first FULL day in detention.

This morning also marked the first event worthy of celebration.

Sleepy was to be released!

I took the chance to congratulate him with a handshake and round of applause. It helped to keep the atmosphere just a little more cheerful and gave me something to look forward to.

Already I could see myself in his position a mere 4 days from now.

From then on it became a habit of ours to update each other every morning on how many days we had until release. This involved counting down on our fingers the number of days we had already served followed by a round of hi-fives! #thug-life

It was through this that I learned that Happy was due for release in 2 days while Sneezy was due in 6 (the poor bastard).


Let’s talk about food…

If you can’t guess the predominant food which literally every single meal consisted of in one try, then you must not know which county I’m talking about.

China and rice go together like Australia and kangaroos; Japan and sushi; Mexico and tacos; or America and mass shootings.

It’s to be expected.

Meals were served to us by two of our fellow inmates from a different cell, and always the same two. I named them B1 and B2 for the stripped pajamas they always wore. Only in China would someone bring pajamas to prison, but I suppose at least they were comfortable.

b1b2

Inmates B1 and B2

 

I don’t know how these two Bananas in Pajamas managed to land their positions as servers but I would gladly have volunteered if given the chance just to get out of the cell for a while.

Although it was mixed with some vegetables and/or meat (if we were lucky) each and every meal was composed of rice, rice, and more rice.

There was so much of the stuff that they usually offered seconds. I wouldn’t starve at least, but I might have just killed myself after all if I had to eat another bowl of fucking rice.

Some people tell me that I’m a fast eater. I don’t think that’s necessarily true, but perhaps I’m a little faster than most.

My cell mates however put me to absolute shame.

By the time my food had cooled just enough to eat and I had taken my first few mouthfuls, they had already polished off their entire meal (down to the last grain) and were in the process of cleaning their bowls.

I often received odd looks and comments about how I was such a slow eater, and Happy even made eating gestures to encourage me to hurry up. I thought there must have been some sort of time limit, or perhaps it was part of the Chinese obsession with eating food only if it’s 2 degrees below molten.

eatlaowai

Whatever it was, mealtime in jail was like feeding time on the farm and I was never able to finish more than half my bowl.

Needless to say, swallowing one’s food without chewing doesn’t do the digestive system many favours. That, accompanied by the low quality of the food to begin with, usually resulted in predictable after-effects.

The toilet was located within the cell and had been designed without much thought to privacy. Apart from a small barrier to the sides, there wasn’t much to be left to the imagination should nature call, and boy did it ever!

After settling in to my state of perpetual banality, I came to find that the senseless day-to-day routines had the positive effect of passing the time ever so surely.

I appreciated the designated cleaning, eating, shitting and nap times for the simple fact that it was something to do.

Although it made me feel like a preschooler (nap time – really?), these short periods of activity really helped.

Day 2 came with yet another pleasant surprise as we were able to leave the cell for lunch. It was a sweet relief to stretch my legs as we assembled in the common area (the same one I was strip-searched in) and served with (you guessed it) more fucking rice.

spidermanprison

This was the first time I had met any of the inmates from the other cells.  There were a couple dozen of us or so and only one other foreigner. Although I didn’t have the chance to speak to him, a few of the local guys gathered around to attempt a conversation with me, one of whom spoke perfect English.

They were all very curious about who I was and how I had come to be here.  Through our self-appointed translator, I learned that many of them were here for some truly mundane offenses.

In the case of our translator:

“I was in an argument on the subway and some of the words I used were not very nice.”

flat,800x800,075,f

This particular outing also led to a most fortunate discovery, thanks in no small part to Happy. ‘Hello’ he said to me and pointed towards the shelf running along the side of the room – the prison library.

I had noticed these books previously, however at the time I had assumed they were all Chinese and not of particular use to myself. However to my delight, there was one lonesome English title just waiting to be nabbed, and nabbed it I did…

Little did I know at the time, but this would be the last time I would enter the library and so I feel I owe Happy quite a bit for sparing me from banging my head against the wall even more than I already was.

Cheers, buddy!

buried.2

Buried by Mark Billingham

 

I’m not generally a fan of crime fiction (in fact this is probably the first novel in the genre I’ve ever read) and I thought this particular novel started off a little slow, but about halfway through, it had won me over completely and I dedicated more than half my free time to reading it (twice over).

I’d like to extend my dearest thanks to Mark Billingham for occupying my time and I’m sure he would be as interested as I am to learn how his book came to be in a Chinese detention centre library.

A funny thing occurred while I was reading that very afternoon as Sneezy took a particular interest in my style of reading. He approached me with a curious look in his eye and gestured to the book and then to his mouth, all the while jabbering away in Chinese (at this stage he had yet to determine that I was incapable of understanding anything but the most basic vocabulary in small doses).

Initially I thought he wanted me to read to him, and so I acquiesced only to be immediately rebuked. Later on as I gave it some thought, I came to the realisation that Sneezy was inquiring as to how it was that I could read without moving my lips.

It’s not the sort of thing we in the West ever think about, but in many parts of the world even today (where education is less readily available) reading aloud is standard practice while silent reading is regarded as a curious oddity.

Later that afternoon we were introduced to another new cellmate. Again I greeted him as warmly as I could muster and immediately ran through the names of the 7 Dwarfs I had not yet used. Judging from his quiet demeanour, I was at first tempted to name him Bashful.

This guy, who appeared to be the youngest among us, barely spoke a word and followed Sneezy around like a lost puppy. He was altogether rather pathetic and I grew to dislike him immensely, not least at all due to the fact that he never once looked me in the eye.

By the following morning as I observed him attempting to make the bed in the most incompetent manner imaginable, I decided that he was and only could be Dopey.

Dopey_transparent

Dopey quickly became my morning entertainment, as despite the instructional video on the precise bed-making technique required, he never once made any improvement and was on more than one occasion told to make it again after morning inspection.

He really was a Dopey bastard…


 

Day III

The next day passed by in a painfully slow blur without much excitement. In fact we did not leave the cell even once and it marked the first time I had spent over 24 hours straight in a single room since college.

The one and only noteworthy event occurred the night before when I was woken up at some unknown hour to the sound of talking and cell doors being opened and closed. I didn’t take much notice at the time and promptly fell back to sleep. The next morning I discovered that the cell across from ours (which had been previously empty) now held an occupant.

The cells on one side of the block were all occupied and could house up to 7 inmates. Those on the other side however had so far all been empty and had a maximum occupancy of only 3. It was a mystery to me as to the purpose of this design, and the thick plottened when I saw that unlike our blue prison vests, the fellow in the cell opposite us wore an orange one.

As I’m writing this I realise that I haven’t actually mentioned it before, but each inmate was required at all times to wear a snazzy blue vest upon which was written our inmate number.

Ginger-vest over there was the only one I’d seen so far to make a fashion statement. Whatever the orange vest might have meant, or why he was placed in one of the small cells on his own, I have no clue. What I do know is that he was a foreigner and was clearly having difficulty understanding Chinese.

A guard stood outside his cell that morning and attempted to instruct Ginger-vest on how to make the bed and prepare for breakfast but to no avail. Happy called me over with a well-put ‘hello’ which I took to mean ‘can you give a hand, old sport?’. I gave it my best shot and asked Ginger-vest if he needed any help, but as it turned out, the poor guy didn’t speak English either.

For all the trouble I was having, for him it was no doubt worse.

That same morning, Happy was released, leaving just myself, Sneezy, and Dopey behind. I rather missed Happy for the cheerful atmosphere he brought to our otherwise bleak cell, but I was also glad for the extra space. That is until Night 4 came about…

 

to be continued…

Part 4 will be out tomorrow

– J.S.Worth

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