Monday, February 01, 2010

A little trouble in China town

Violence is rarely seen in China's capital Beijing. Crime is often severely punished and pub fights and skirmishes, common in many western cities, are almost as rare as rocking horse droppings. And so it is a surprise to see an argument turn to blows or worse. A visit to a restaurant in east Beijing at the weekend gave witness to just such an incident that turned from an angry confrontation into a violent altercation and then a comical farce.

It was a Saturday night and on entering a popular Japanese restaurant on the east of town, loud voices could be heard. This in itself is not uncommon. But as one ascended the stairs and arrived at the main reception it was clear this was no ordinary argument. One man was clutching a cloth, holding it tightly to his head. There were raised voices and it was obvious that some incident had already occurred. Whatever had happened was not immediately clear, but it seemed one man was already injured and he was still not happy. 

Within a few moments the man clutching the cloth was boiling over and battling with others around him. Restaurant staff were shouting and there appeared to be attempts to calm the situation. But the injured man could not be placated and within seconds had armed himself with a fire extinguisher and began to wave it around. Charging behind the reception desk he broke through the door and was followed by several others. Crockery was heard to smash to the ground and as he re-entered the main lobby the others returned and people around him scattered. After a few more shouts, pushes and shoving, the man and several others descended the stairs and left.

Taking a seat in a private room, the incident was obviously the main topic of conversation as one awaited the arrival of friends. We ordered some beer and sake and discussed the fracas we had just witnessed. As we waited, a waitress entered and informed us we might have to find another restaurant. But why? What was the problem? It appeared the fight was between two of the chefs and the rest had left in the wake of the disturbance. They were apologetic and we debated where we might go instead. Then the manager returned and said they were making efforts to contact their staff and persuade them to return, perhaps with the threat that if they didn't they might find themselves being made into sashimi! Friends arrived and we were told that calls had been made and some of the chefs were returning. 

From here on in it began to resemble an episode of the British comedy Fawlty Towers. We could order the sashimi, but we were told cooked dishes might pose a problem. So a large mixed sashimi was ordered and several types of maki sushi. Over the next hour a number of erroneous dishes arrived along with some we had asked for. When the sushi eventually turned up it was only half of what had been ordered which gave rise to speculation the chef in question was not exactly skilled in preparing it and had discarded his failed attempts. The cuts of sashimi were much thicker than usual, which also suggested this was not their usual chef.

On leaving the private room for a cigarette break, one observed that some new guests had arrived. These were not usual guests however. These new arrivals were in uniform and were talking to the manager and staff. Outside there were two police cars and after a few minutes a young man was escorted from the restaurant by two Beijing security and placed in the back of one of the vehicles. A police officer later exited the building holding an object wrapped in paper. It was not known what the object was, but from the length and width it appeared to be a large knife!

Had one of the sushi chefs gone wild with a sashimi knife? What was the argument over? This information could not be verified. What could be established though was that one chef was in hospital and another was in police custody. As for the food, while it may not have been to the usual standard, it was still good. And the 'cabaret' had certainly brought with it a certain amount of 'entertainment'. 

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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