Escaping Red Army Grandma


My four friends and I sat down for a snack under a thatched roof in a traditional Korean village in Jilin Province, China during one of our travels. As we sat we were approached by an elderly woman, who asked us for money. We respectfully denied her request, however, this grandma would not take no for an answer and told us she needed the money for cigarettes and beer; and we are the foreigners who will pay her for that. Well, we saw that things were escalating, and decided the best option was to leave. Well, that didn’t work, for as we got up, Grandma took a hold of a purse hanging off one of our friend’s shoulder, and refused to let go. When asked why she wouldn’t leave us alone, she replied, “You have shamed me and now I will shame you!”

With one friend trying to mediate, another took the place of the friend struck with fear by this Grandma who has her purse, and walked away. Knowing that our female companion was the “weakest link,” the Grandma began to chase after her. Literally, Grandma was jumping over benches to catch our friend. Another friend stepped in between the pursuit and was met by Grandma’s shove and a balled fist ready to strike. The friend who was mediating was able to convince that violence wasn’t the answer. So, Grandma clutched to the purse again, and began to raise a scene as onlookers circled and watched the drama unfold without offering any assistance. At this point we were getting tired of this escapade, and my friend with the purse, pulled the purse away from Grandma. At that point Grandma clutched her arm and screamed we have hurt her and we will pay.

Two of us had to accompany Grandma and her daughter to the hospital and the other three went to the hostel to wait. One hour, became two hours and became three, and finally we heard from our friends. They called and said, “We have to walk, we’ll meet you at the restaurant.” At the restaurant we were retold the story, how Grandma threatened them with her associates in the police and army, demanding to tell them where they lived, and screamed that they have to pay for all this. At the hospital, the doctor gave some acupuncture and told Grandma to rest. In order to “take care” of Grandma, they paid her $100 in Chinese currency, and had to walk home.

We all heard this and thought she’s crazy, but we did give her the name, Red Army Grandma, as our friends saw bullet wound scars on her back. We picked the wrong Grandma to run from.

We entered the train station, not knowing if we were to be picked up by Red Army Grandma associates, and quickly shuffled to the train platform. In China, everyone knows that even if you have a ticket, it doesn’t mean you get a seat, as ticket agents sell until the train is full, sitting or standing. We found a spot right along the tracks and as the train slowed, I saw that I would be right in front of the door, and I yelled back to my friends, “Don’t worry guys, I’ll save us some seats.” At that precise moment, the doors opened and hundreds of people pushed towards the door, I am swept off the platform and holding onto the door’s railing hanging over the tracks. Our one friend, throws his arms out wide and yells, “Ok guys, I got like 8 Chinese people behind me, Go, Go, Go!” With all of our efforts we found ourselves standing in a middle of an aisle, no seats, about to embark for an 8 hour train ride.

One friend pulls out a bottle of booze, to numb the pain of standing in a confined space for 8 hours, but that didn’t work as she became nauseous and worst of all, her charades skill level became more annoying the more she drank. I decided to be proactive and laid my body across the aisle with my legs under the seats. Besides the used sunflower seeds, the mucus of loogies and an occasional fruit core near my head, I was able to get a few hours of sleep. That was until, someone came barging through the aisle and stepped on my face. I decided to stand up after that.



B O'Meara

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