Corrupt power structure, or Benevolent Dictatorship?

May 24th, 2008 § 2 comments

fifteen minutes before the opening of the afternoon visa session, i joined the loose assemblage of peoples around the chinese consulate. returning veterans of the morning session clued me in:

i must queue on the right
for the deli machine
which dispenses the numbers
that determine the order
of being seen.

so, i took my place by the entrance, seemingly at the head of the line. yet before i know it, there were 20 people competing for the spot i had occupied alone, an amalgam of me and 19 elderly chinese.

on the other side of the glass doors two security guards were preparing for the onslaught. i could make out the russian names on their tags. the shorter one ‘A.’ had braces, the other ‘R.’ a cigarette in his mouth, and neither was older than 20. their clothes were oversized and since they huddled behind the machine which dispenses the numbers, i imagined them as meat clerks by the deli counter.

they opened the doors and announced with a heavy russian accent:

“if you have number, wait on the left, also if you have pickup. to get visa number wait on the right.”

surprisingly most of the colonizers of my personal space fractured left. when an interpreter came, so did the rest. i was back at the front of the line and between me and my very own order in the queue were only the two guards. as R. pressed the touch screen for a number, i asked A. in russian, “why are two russian boys guarding one chinese consulate?”

to which he replied “globalization” and exposed his braces with a grin, revealing that we established an understanding in a shared language.

when R. handed me the ticket with a number, one-hundred from the one now serving, i asked whether they suggested i come back in an hour or two or tomorrow? and they said, “let’s see what we can do.” and they did:

they shuffled through their pockets
they picked number stubs off the floor
they huddled behind the deli machine
and they returned with a verdict in hand…

it was a lower number, probably a half hour wait.

i spent the whole time observing the machinations at the deli counter. these boys where stewards of an unnatural resource. they were “skimming from the barrel” of other people’s time. mostly, they handed out numbers in order of arrival. every once in a while, the russian meat clerks would pocket a number for later use, as a “queue boost” per se.

these queue boosts served predominantly as cute girl tokens. but in equal parity queue boosts were offered to grateful elderly ladies. i tried to reconstruct their moral calculus. did they see themselves as benevolent dictators, robin hoods looking out for the elderly, and helping themselves to a few younger girls as collateral?

my compass read that (a) i had benefited from this corrupt regime and that (b) a cute girl token was spent on me; but the lament dissolved in the broader realization that (i) the meat clerks probably already atoned for me and (ii) my atonee probably had an even lower number than me.

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