9th Day: Detained by Chinese Security

40:07 into this morning’s run on my ninth day living in China; that is when I was detained by Chinese security. 

And the run was going so well. 

Look where I was:


Yeah. Beautiful running route. No one out on this elite school campus yet but a legion of groundskeepers, security & myself. 

For the second consecutive day, I came into work with my boss, at 0610. I do not need to be there until 0745 but am willing to run early within this enclosed resort-like atmosphere—motorbike-free!

So nice to not have those shooting out from all angles. They’re not shooting out from anywhere, actually…except when one is. 

I’d just run across this canal, in a quintessential Chinese scene:

I’d exchanged greetings with Linda, campus liaison between the schools and Chinese government, then run back toward the track (about 350 meters, I think). My watch ticked off 5 miles, last mile was 7:15 & it was just as humid as ever but no glaring sun in this cloudy morning. 

I’ll have time for a couple more miles, I thought as I ran onto a pleasant tree lined asphalt pathway adjacent to the orange rubber track. 

Suddenly, a security officer on a motorbike shot up next to me. With stern grimace he waved his hand, “Bu shi!” (“No!”)

Thinking he meant no running around the campus roads, I motioned toward roads saying, “Bu shi” but then toward the track: “Shi.” (“Yes.”)

He turned his head vigorously side to side:”Bu shi! Bu shi!” Waving toward roads, then track. 

That’s all I understood anyhow. 

CRAP! My run here may be over. 

Turning, I began heading off. 

Asserting something in Chinese, he scooted up farther onto the seat, motioning for me to sit behind him. 

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever run in the Shanghai Summer, but I now have–for over a full week. And even when it’s in the 80’s–before 0600–with “only” 60% humidity, it’s as though I stepped out of a swimming pool. Literally. 

I’ve never seen my shoes sweat; salty water pouring from them as if they were organic organisms. 

I pointed to my drenched tank top, then the seat. The guard definitely still wanted me on his bike, let’s put it that way. 

We were off. No helmets, of course (I’ve seen a total of 2 people wearing them here), with my run now severely interrupted. 

Once at the grand front gate, we parked near the guard house. Stepping off the bike, I looked down to see it slicked in sweat. Quickly, I was surrounded by five Chinese guards. 

“Li shi,” I tried saying. I just learned it yesterday: “I’m a teacher.” Except it’s actually “Lao shi,” so I was making no sense. 

With every movement, droplets of sweat shot like bullets toward the men detaining me. Men trained within a government system which strictly forbids freedoms such as speech-religion-assembly. 

“Li shi. Li shi. Mary Margaret, my boss. I work there,” pointing… Dammit. None of it made any sense. 

None of the guards spoke a word of English and, really, why should they? 

Here I was IN CHINA.  Not Chinatown. Not Flushing, Queens, Sunset Park, or Manhattan. Not in Toronto. 

Holy crap! I’m actually IN CHINA. And not at the Bund, tourist mecca, either. But on an elite private school campus waaaaayyy outside tourist territory. And I’m now detained by a squadron of guards who have no idea who I am. 

They may even think I somehow swam across the canal, circumvented the sizable electrified fence & began running around campus. 

The first interlocutor seemed most intent on booting me out–“Paobu bu shi!” (“No running!”) He waved his hands toward the gate, about to force me outside my new educational community. 

A young female Chinese teacher stopped. The guards asked if she could help translate. At first, I thought she could. But she seemed to speak no more English than any of the guards. 

Security began asking folks in cars arriving for work if they knew me. I clearly saw one woman driver shake her head no. 

I was persona non grata. 

Sweaty bullets kept flying. Everywhere I stepped left puddles on the steaming asphalt. 


By then, every guard seemed to be having a field day in regards to my proficiency to sweat hyperprofusely. 

Everyone but the main interlocutor. 

I was stranded. So close, yet so danged far from the canal, the grass, the trees, the track. 

The touchscreen on my phone barely worked due to the sweat dripping incessantly from my fingertips & head onto the screen. It functioned just enough for me to get this WeChat message out to my boss, attempting to get actual school work done in the tranquility of a once quiet morning.

No answer. 

Okay, I’ll not be at work today. 


“I know Linda,” I told the teacher. “You know, she helps our schools.” 

No response, but she kindly handed me a tissue to clean myself up a bit. 

“Xie xie.”

I voice called my boss. Thankfully, our colleague (and fellow runner!) was with her by then in her office. I hit speakerphone and Emily busted out some serious Mandarin with the guards. 

Initially, they seemed to not get it. Then suddenly, “Hao.” That beautiful Chinese word for “good” from the mouth of interlocutor #1. 

Freedom again! But only enough time to run back to the track. 

Dang it! My run was interrupted. 

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