At Last, It Can Be Told…

I’ve recently received permission from Ian Hamet to explain the events behind his mysterious disappearance from the Web last July, and his enigmatic reappearance in mid-October. The tale’s not quite as lurid as the fevered imaginings that had me calling the American consulate on Ian’s behalf, but it’ll do.

It seems that in early July Ian attended a film festival in Shanghai. The festival lasted a couple of days, running from before dawn until well after dark, and he was there for most of it. During a late-night showing of one of Bruce Li’s early films he found himself alone in the theater with a Chinese gentleman who turned out to be nearly as much of a film geek as Ian. They got quite chummy as the film went on, and afterwards moved on to a nearby bar for some mutai.

If you’ve never heard of it (I hadn’t), mutai is an incredibly strong rice wine, about 100 proof. All important business deals, so Ian tells me, are concluded over far too many glasses of mutai.

After enough mutai to underwrite a sizeable venture, Ian staggered away home, leaving his new chum inert and halfway under the table. He didn’t think any more of it–not after the hangover wore off–until a couple of days later, when he was exploring a new section of Shanghai. As he’s reported in the past, Shanghai drivers are erratic, careless, and pay no attention to stop signs. When a car approached him he paid it no mind, simply being careful to keep out of its way. There was nothing unusual about it until the car stopped dead in the middle of the crosswalk and two big guys bundled him into the back seat. They shoved him down onto the floor and held him there. Naturally, they wouldn’t answer his questions, and Ian tells me he wasn’t inclined to push.

When they let him up, the car was down by the waterfront. They hustled him onto a motor boat, and took him out to a barge anchored in the harbor. And that’s where Ian spent the next three months–on a barge in the middle of Shanghai harbor. A barge that, it turns out, belonged to his chum from the film festival.

It’s still not clear to Ian just why Mr. Chinese Film Geek grabbed him. It seems likely that Mr. CFG was a bigwig in the local mob, and perhaps he was afraid he’d said a little too much to Ian over the mutai. Or maybe he just wanted to have a fellow film geek on tap to help him practice his English; he seemed to think that Ian had offered as much during their mutual binge. Also, he was impressed with Ian’s capacity for mutai.

Be that as it may, Ian spent the next three months below decks. During the day he was made to help one of Mr. CFG’s underlings devise Chinese subtitles for pirated American movies; the underling’s English was bad, and Ian’s Chinese isn’t good, and I’m sorry to say that some of Ian’s translations were not untinged with malice. (Ian has a wicked sense of humor.) And then, in the evenings, Mr. CFG would send for him and they’d watch Mr. CFG’s favorite American movies and Mr. CFG would practice his English. And then Mr. CFG would say something on the order of, “Good night, Ian, sleep well, I’ll most likely kill you in the morning,” and send him off to bed.

One night, shots rang out on deck while Our Man In Banana was watching Master of the Flying Guillotine with Mr. CFG. More shots followed. Finding himself alone in Mr. CFG’s sanctum, he managed to slip out and over the side during the confusion. He’s still not quite sure just what was going on, though he conjectures that one of Mr. CFG’s business partners had come to pay off a debt of some kind. Anyway, he swam to the nearest dock and was gone before anyone thought to look for him.

It was an interesting experience, he tells me, but one he could have done without; especially since his landlord had confiscated and sold most of his belongings.

So there you have it: Ian Hamet’s Big Adventure, and more than enough reason, I’d say, to leave China for good.

Update: It’s been suggested that perhaps I’ve let my imagination run away with me–that perhaps it didn’t happen quite like this. Or even that it didn’t happen at all like this. Well, maybe. All I can say is that my version is a lot more interesting and colorful than the tale Ian actually told me, which was a sad little thing of venal clerks, dishonest landlords, and unfeeling bureacracy. I like mine better.

  • By Laura, February 7, 2007 @ 8:00 am

    I’d stick with your version – very nice!

  • By John, February 17, 2007 @ 4:19 pm

    Well, you had me, hook, line, and sinker.

  • By Jeff in CA, March 19, 2007 @ 10:48 am

    I particularly liked the Dread Pirate Roberts reference.

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