The Bag Keepers at the Embassy使馆门前看包人
It is a place of absurdity. At the entrance of the visa office at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, people queued patiently in long and slow-moving lines towards security check points, their eyes filled with timidity and uncertainty, as if waiting for the call of fate. Before coming here, they could be beautiful ladies carrying designer bags, commanding bosses of corporations, or poor students who’d taken the TOFEL five times. But once they are here, they only look like illegal immigrants in the eyes of visa officers.
But the real suspicious illegal workers are literally just steps away from the fence that separates the long queues. They are in fisherman hats and sports shoes. Their skins burnt in the sun, they shout out, “Electrical watches, USBs, and lighters are not allowed in. Not allowed in!”
The U.S. Embassy bans personal effects from being brought in for safety concerns, and limited by space and staff, lockers are not provided. A new trade—bag keeping—was thus born, figured out by those living in the bottom of the society. They do their illegal business outside of the U.S. Embassy, and yet they become the first security checking specialists of the embassy.
It is RMB 30 for keeping a normal bag and more expensive for luggage. Their monthly income can exceed RMB 7000.
However, clients worry. Least of all, a 32G USB is full of personal information, let alone mobiles. Passing them off to a stranger through the fence and seeing them passed off, hand after hand, like a relay— it requires courage no less than fighting with one’s life
without any backing. Not everyone can do that.
But the bag keepers have their own way. Advertisement professionals could take a lesson from how they accurately identify the pain points of their clients. For those who apply for the first time, the lack of required documents or mistakes in filling in the form is like Achilles’ heel for their application. Bingo! This is where bag keepers throw in their value-added consulting services.
Look! Now this bald guy with both luggage and a bag has surrendered all of his documents including ID, business certificate, driver’s license, savings certificate, and photos of family for the bag keeping woman’s scrutiny within one minute after he got off a taxi.
They also provide photography services. Once they screen a disqualified photo, a 100% qualified photo can be produced in five minutes, during which, taking the photo, retouching the photo, and printing have all happened. The new photo can be the best passport photo the client ever gets.
Their business also expands to exits of the visa office. A young man walks out with his head hanging to his chest, from whom a bag keeper immediately smells business and comes up holding out a business card with “visa rejection analysis” printed on it. “Rejected? Don’t you worry. Call this number and we will analyze the reasons for you.” The young man is still bewildered with mixed feelings of doubt and anger. He eventually waves his hand and left the card hanging there.
Rejection of service offers is common but it is astonishing to see people refusing to pay. A young man kept the bag for an old woman for two and a half hours. The woman was given the visa and quickly changed her attitude from timidity to shouting, “Why should I pay you?” With this, she snatched her bag and sprinted off. Looking at her dashing off, the young man’s face showed disgust as if he had just drunk sour milk, “Having the money to travel internationally and can’t afford RMB 30?”
The patrolling police officers are the other people who appear daily in the area with the bag keepers, as well as undercover policemen standing their shifts outside. They rarely talk, but their sharp looks and straight backs cast their authority on the bag keepers, who behave and mind not to ever drop their cards on the street to stain the city’s image.
The bag keepers are like the seeds of bitter herbs finding their soil at the root of old thick walls and despite in the shade most of the time, they grow lavishly. It is a business originated from small “inconveniences”, like in old times the vendors on the way to primary schools selling red scarves, when it was a punishable act if you didn’t wear one on campus. People at the bottom of society are wise in their own way for making a living, although it is not easy for the foreigners who made the forbidding but no locker rule to understand.
(From National Humanity History, Issue 8, 2017. Translation: Zhang Lei)