The Bag Keep­ers at the Em­bassy使馆门前看包人

Special Focus - - SOCIETY - By Road­shop文 |公路商店

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)

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