WHAT'S YOUR POISON? Drug peddling remains an area of concern in Beijing's entertainment areas (CFP)
"Hey man, how are you doing?" I looked around to see three fashionably dressed African guys approaching me, wearing broad grins and looking for all intents and purposes to be finalists in a Mr. Friendly 2010 contest.
Being someone who always gives people the benefit of the doubt, I engaged with the cheerful chaps. After all, I was from Africa too.
We exchanged pleasantries and much backslapping at being from the same continent, then the meeting went south.
"So do you want to buy something?" the tall slim one asked, taking off his sunglasses and looking directly at me. The other two didn't miss a beat and chorused, "We've got whatever you need to make you happy, brother." Having now been elevated to familial familiarity, my friendly countenance began slowly sliding into the pits of suspicion as it dawned on me that my newly acquainted brethren weren't just peddling friendship.
"You're from Africa, we can give you a sweet deal," said the short muscular one in the waistcoat and Samuel L. Jackson cap, flashing me a Hollywood smile.
Marijuana, hashish, ecstasy, heroin, cocaine, these street merchants had it all, just a "short walk away." I could even sample on the spot they said. There it was, all out in the open, in downtown Beijing as easy as you please. After some rather harsh words from me and a lecture that washed over the trio like water off a duck's back, I went on my way determined to find out how common an occurrence this was.
I wondered if it was only me and if my appearance makes me look like a user to these street sharks, so I contacted many of my friends across the city, most of whom have lived here for some time. It transpired that all regularly get hit on by groups of street drug sellers when visiting the entertainment areas of Beijing. Office colleagues concurred. It appeared that my survey showed this has been going on for years and no one is immune.
Back in September 2007 many media organizations, including the South China Morning Post and Reuters, reported how Beijing police arrested between 20 and 30 Africans in Beijing's Sanlitun bar street area in what was said to be one of the biggest drug crackdowns yet seen in the city.
Then in April 2008, before the Beijing Olympics, another massive drug raid took place in the same Sanlitun area in the city, with a slew of arrests taking place. It was all part of the program to clean up the city before the big event, clear acknowledgment the authorities are aware of the drug problem. The merchants moved to other areas at the time, rather than go underground, but are clearly back now in all their arrogant glory. The installation of security cameras in the area at the time seems to have had little effect when one looks at the situation and how prevalent it still is today.
It becomes pretty obvious that nothing this blatant can be carried out in public without some kind of pay-off taking place somewhere along the food chain. Also what becomes apparent is the region in Africa where the majority of these merchants are from. I won't mention any country by name, but anyone who follows African affairs will know exactly where I mean. Follow my eyes.
Hey Guys; now it's my turn to hit on you. I now know that you spend many hours of your day harassing foreign pedestrians, and a good number of Chinese too, in Sanlitun and other parts of Beijing, but you might have noticed that there is a FIFA World Cup now on in Africa. Yes that's right—on our continent. South Africa and the rest of the Africa is trying its level best to improve its image through this historical opportunity and much goodwill is being poured in that direction. Get it?
The world is watching football right now and watching Africa at the same time. We are proud of this.
And with the bad press that Africa gets, our image has been bashed, kicked, jumped on and backstabbed for as long as anyone can remember. Your presence and actions perpetuate the false negative perception Chinese and others have of Africans.
My message to you is this: Why don't you take your drugs, your hypocritical friendly bravado and your fake American accents, pack your bags and get the hell out of Dodge? We don't want you here, you're an embarrassment to all the other decent law-abiding people from Africa, both in China and elsewhere, who are proud of where we come from. You are a disgrace—please close the door on your way out.
The author is a South African living in Beijing