Enrique's Tumultuous Evening
The Foreign Experts Building was a lively place, with lots of parties, big and small. It was, however, a generally peaceful place. If there were domestic arguments, the cement walls must have been thick enough to conceal them. My window fell out once, and that was somewhat exciting.
Unscrupulous foreigners teaching in China in the 1980’s were widely known to bring girlfriends or boyfriends along, posing as spouses and thus enjoying free tickets and larger apartments as part of the standard contract for “Foreign Experts.” Enrique, the boyfriend of a Spanish professor from Mexico City, was one such imposter and the role seemed to suit him very well. Not having to work, he joined us on all of our outings, was very sociable, liked to draw, but did little else. Having no interest in learning Chinese or English, he spoke Spanish with everyone. I would often see him, laughing at his own jokes and invariably producing in shop-keepers, egg-sellers and waitresses alike a mixture of amusement, fear and dismay. In my few years there, I had seen many foreigners come and go, and observed with interest how most stayed carefully within a bubble they built, carefully maintained and carried around with them, usually consisting of a select group of compatriots. Enrique’s bubble contained only one (or two, counting his girlfriend “wife” Maria).
The Foreign Experts Building was a lively place, with lots of parties, big and small. It was, however, a generally peaceful place. If there were domestic arguments, the cement walls must have been thick enough to conceal them. My window fell out once, and that was somewhat exciting. And then there was the time Mike Pronko ate a raw “jiaozi” (pork dumpling)
as we were making them up with students and people thought he was going to certainly die. We also had a mysterious prankster for a while, blasting us all out of our sleep with giant strings of firecrackers strung down several floors in the stairwell, but that was after the incident with Enrique.
On an extremely cold January weekend, there was a party in one of the larger apartments. Still recovering from one of those awful respiratory illnesses that the dry and dirty air of Beijing seemed to spawn, I didn’t stay long, so I was dead asleep when there came excited knocking on my door at one or two in the morning. Several of the guys stood there, eyes wide open, panting, and it was clear that they needed my help with something. Ushering me down the stairs and to a room near the party, they quickly described how Enrique had begun acting oddly at the party and, after insulting several of the women, was basically thrown out. It wasn’t long afterward that he (all one hundred and thirty or forty pounds of him) broke the door down “completely off its hinges” and brought the party to a frightening halt. I was still unsure what they needed me for but, as they opened the door and I saw four larger men struggling to keep Enrique pinned to the floor, with blood splattered on the carpet and real fear in their eyes (but not Enrique’s), I knew what they wanted - desperately needed- me to do: go get sedatives. The school physician. Dr. Han, lived in an apartment next to the clinic, and she knew me well, with my infected sinuses and incessant requests for antibiotics and pain pills. She was not upset at being awakened at such an hour. Her many years of ensuring the health of a small university must have taught her patience and steadied her nerves. I was concerned, however, that she didn’t seem to grasp the gravity of the situation as I described how volatile Enrique had become, trying to make the point that she needed to bring sedatives, and wondering if I was using a strong enough term in Chinese. I could feel her thinking, “Aya, the foreigners are drinking again!” Putting on her coat and starting toward the door, I politely repeated “Andingyao ma?” (“…and the sedatives?”). With an everso-slightly condescending hint of a smile, she grabbed a little box and shoved it into her bag. I truly thought she would instantly understand when the door opened and she saw how bad things were, and I admit I was somewhat looking forward to her
sudden enlightenment. Instead, amazingly, she quickly knelt down beside Enrique’s still twitching body (which seemed ready to strike, snake-like, at the first sign of his captors’ relaxation) and proceeded to take his hand in hers and massage the acupressure point between his thumb and first finger until, head suddenly lunging in her direction, he tried to bite her. The syringe was in Dr. Han’s hand, and then into Enrique’s shoulder, faster than my eyes could follow. We all held our breath. .one.. two… three – nothing. Another syringe was quickly produced and administered. Still nothing. Only after a third shot did the muscles start to unbind, the brow and lips flatten out, the breathing become deeper and more even and, finally those terrible eyes close. We never saw Enrique again after that night. Someone said a car from the Mexican embassy was seen on campus the next day. Dr. Han retired not long after that and moved to the beach town of Xiamen.
We never saw Enrique again after that night. Someone said a car from the Mexican embassy was seen on campus the next day.
Lots of parties, big and small, at the Foreign Experts Building in Er Wai