Additional reporting by Chris Ziegler
Everyone complains about the fluorescent lighting. Everyone has a problem with the sterility and the cold, ominous glow. But I don't suppose the Homeland Security agent really cared if I was comfortable.
It was supposed to be my last job. I was going to take whatever money I could from this hopeful Chinese immigrant—the last of eight—and start a new life in San Francisco. And then six agents with fanny packs and tapered jeans walked into the immigration office in Santa Ana, handcuffed me and marched me upstairs to an interrogation room. They read me my rights and told me the government considered me a terrorist.
I stared down at my clenched fists, at a dossier documenting four years of false marriages set up by the Chinese mafia, and at a sticky little pool of tears and snot on the cheap Formica table.
"We know you did it," they told me. "We can book you into jail until your lawyer arrives, or you can make this easy on yourself and talk to us now."
I cried for an hour, thinking of my sisters and how they would look at me. When you get caught, you automatically think you got a raw deal. I'm sure the eight men I swindled—knowingly and unknowingly—felt their deal was the rawest.
In the summer of 2000, my mother approached me with a fantastic idea about "halfway marriages." She told me that I could receive $5,000 for spending two weeks in China, parading around as someone's fiance. I was a dimwitted, self-serving 20-year-old. I said yes.
Let's not talk about what I'd spend it on.
I decided to take my eighth and final dive into the marriage ring when I was asked to marry a Chinese man in the United States in December 2002. I was told I had nothing to worry about, that I would emerge with $10,000 in one hand and the promise of a much better life in the other. We married that same month in Santa Ana. We hired an immigration lawyer to prepare us for the interview. We received word that our interview was to take place on Oct. 22, 2003—six days before my 24th birthday and eight days before my departure for San Francisco. We went over minute details. I remembered what kind of underwear he wore. I rehearsed fake memories of how we fell in love. He learned how to speak English. I picked up some Chinese. We had a photo album—I'd spent hours constructing it—about our life together. I thought out every line I'd use on the immigration officer.
We sat in the waiting room at the federal building, sweating and shaking, nervous and anxious. My fianc had high hopes of building a new life in America. He wanted to open his own teppan restaurant. When the agents walked in, he never knew what hit him.
My contacts had told me not to marry more than two or three times. But I got desperate, and I got lazy, and I got greedy.
I was born in Salt Lake City at the end of 1979, surrounded by snow and Mormons. Let's pretend for a moment that I was lucid at birth, that I witnessed my mother crying about a man she didn't love and my father mortified by a lover as beautiful as she was unsatisfied. They separated a few years later, and I was left with my mother, a Vietnamese pop star always out of town—singing in Australia and France and making music videos with wigs and thick makeup. My dad played billiards and finally settled in Hawaii, finding himself a wife 10 years his junior. We moved to Orange County. I had a very lonely childhood—a lot of imaginary friends and several au pairs. But my mother's only hope was to give her daughter a leg up in life. It wasn't her intention that I'd get addicted to marrying for money.
My mother knew I was in a financial tight spot, and neither of us really had a lot of extra money lying around. Times were tough for has-been pop stars; no one wanted to bill her except second-rate nightclubs in Huntington Beach. So it was a typical evening: after eating dinner, we sat together on uncomfortable metal chairs. As I shuffled my left ass cheek up and let the right one comfortably settle, she shifted out of a conversation about her bad lovers—she was beautiful and attracted the worst kind of men—and said, "Hey, do you want to get married in China for money?"
I urged her to tell me more. But she couldn't—this was only something her friends were casually discussing at a dinner party over cold sliced pig ears and Heineken. She patted my hands—which were shaking from excitement over the prospect of money—and said she could talk to someone, and they would speak to someone else, and that I could get more information in a few days.
And then, after a few days, the phone chirped at me. "So, I hear you're interested in going to China," a husky male voice with a heavy Asian accent said.
"Yeah," I said. "Who is this?"
"Um, call me Bob," he said. I didn't know many Asian men named Bob, and I smothered a giggle. "This is how it works. We fly you to China with an escort who speaks the language. We set you up in a five-star hotel, and we feed you whatever you want whenever you want! If you want to go out drinking at the clubs, we'll take you and pay for you! If you want male hookers, we'll get those for you, too! Shopping is cheap! Think about it—all of the stuff you buy here is from China anyway. Now you're buying direct! You could even bargain them down for a cheaper price. I can have you talk to some girls who've done it before, and they'll tell you how fun, fast and easy it all is!"
He was really trying to sell me on it, I thought. I hadn't realized the pent-up demand in China for single, female U.S. citizens. I don't think I could really understand—at that point—the desperate urge to leave a poor country.
"What's the business end of it?" I asked.
"There are three options," he said officiously. "You can do a fianc trip, which means you go over there, take a few pictures and sign paperwork that says you're his fiance. With that, he has a chance of receiving a six-month visa to the United States. The second option is the 'halfway marriage.' Essentially, that's when you actually get married—but cancel it—so that guy can receive his six-month visa with even more ease; that pays a lot more. Third option is to do it all the way. You don't want to do that. That's a headache and a hassle."
Option three is a headache and a hassle? Option one pays less? I'm going with option two! Thank you very much, unknown man on the other line!
I hung up the phone and told my mother. Quietly, she said that I was a big girl and that I could decide what was appropriate. I was nervous about going to a developing country still under communist rule. And I was excited about the money.
Two weeks of anonymous phone calls put me in a dimly lit parking lot in Little Saigon in August 2000, leaning against a tiny rolling suitcase. It was lightly packed. I had my heart set on filling it with exotic goods from across the Pacific. And I had no idea who I was going to meet. I waited beneath the buzzing sodium lights and popped my head up every time something poked out of the shadows. I had all my paperwork: a manila envelope holding a passport with a 30-day visa stuck on page 27, a birth certificate, a Social Security card and notary papers stating that I was, in fact, single. I noticed that the address and employment information—provided by Bob—were false. I figured it didn't really matter.
It took two cigarettes before a luxury Mercedes pulled up beside me. A man and woman greeted me, an older pair in their late 40s or early 50s. They looked like any Asian parents, introduced themselves (bogus names, I'm sure) and motioned me into the car. We were going to the airport.
The doubts I'd nursed in the parking lot seemed hazier, but I still curled my fingers around Bob's number. He'd said to call if I ran into any trouble. As we pulled off the 105, the woman turned around, her lean body squeaking against the smooth leather seat, and said, "Okay. You're going to fly to New York first to meet with the boss—he wanted to get a good look at you—and then you're going to receive the first portion of your share. I hope $1,000 is good enough for spending overseas!"
New York? No one said I had to fly into New York. No one said I had to meet anyone else. I was in the check-in line at LAX when I opened my mouth to protest. They shushed me before I could start, however—"There are several girls and boys that are going to do this with you. You have nothing to worry about"—and then the woman yanked the suitcase out of my hands and plopped it in front of the baggage handler.
At La Guardia Airport, I met a youthful, round-faced Asian man—call him "Jack." After a firm handshake, we shimmied into a taxi and made our way to Chinatown. We ate bad Chinese food. The boss never showed, and we ended up at JFK, where the rest of the group was sitting in the lounge area, talking happily amongst themselves. My fears settled a little: these marriage schemes were obviously fairly routine. I didn't really want to fraternize, though. They were typical Orange County Asian kids with Tommy Hilfiger jeans large enough for four legs. The guys had nice fade haircuts, and the girls had platform shoes they'd bought at a mom-and-pop fashion store. They immediately made comments about me in Vietnamese; I let them know—in their native tongue—that I knew exactly what they were saying.
"Ahhhhhh," said a girl with drawn-in batwing eyebrows. "You look so . . . so . . . unique. We thought you were Japanese or something."
Dumb fucks. The five-hour flight to New York City seemed completely pointless. We boarded the plane for the People's Republic of China. For 16 hours, I sat next to two Korean amazons who never said a word. The shit-talking, lowered-Honda-driving, brassy-blond-streaked assholes were four rows ahead of me. I could hear them cackling about math problems and shooting pool.
Guangzhou International Airport: thou art vile and unsanitary. I complained about the heat and humidity in New York earlier, but Southern China was a sauna, the sun raking my face. I sauntered out of the gate, waiting for the rest of the party to catch up and saw a white placard with my name in large block letters, held by a woman with a sloppy peroxide job. Jack scooped me up out of nowhere and introduced me.
"Okay," he said cheerfully. "You're going with her now."
I could feel the first little pricks of panic. "Um, I thought you were escorting me—help me translate, help me situate," I said. "What's going on?"
"Translate?" Jack asked. "I'm Vietnamese, not Chinese."
Was he chuckling? I laughed with him, waiting for him to pull me back to the group. He looked at me. "You don't seem to get it," he said. "I'm taking that group to another city. Go with Kelly. She'll take good care of you!"
He walked back across the lobby. I almost hiked up my Dickies and followed him, but then my subconscious puffed out a few quick math problems: five grand could buy me an assload of records. Five grand could buy me a turntable, a PlayStation 2, a proper trip to New York City—the possibilities were endless. In my fist I had two phone numbers I could call.
It was enough to allow me to watch Jack—and everyone else—walk away. I turned on my heel, smiled, said hi in English and stuck out my hand. Homegirl scowled and started to spit mad Cantonese at me. I don't speak Cantonese at all. She took charge of my arm and steered me outside through the hot, smoggy air to a waiting car.
My husband was Ah-Ling, an adorable, wiry man-boy of 22 years (26 now and perhaps living with nine cousins in a three-bedroom apartment somewhere in the U.S.). His mother and father were lychee farmers and were warm and receptive. They took me to eat dog, snake and rat to honor my visit. Out of respect, I ate each dish. It shouldn't have mattered. They never cooked me any of this food. Most of it was from the E. coli canteens in the city. When they brought out the plate of roasted dog meat, I wrestled with the urge to vomit; it smelled like wet fur.
After the pleasantries, we got around to doing some work. It was a two-hour trip to Ah-Ling's hometown by bus, which was nice, save for the rancid, smelly old men. We had to submit documents proving we were unmarried, and then we had to pass a medical exam. The clinic was daunting. Even though you could smell bleach and other sterilizing agents, you couldn't look away from the mildew between the tiles; the rickety furniture; the babies with flaps on their pants to shit at will, instead of diapers to contain the waste; the nurses taking blood samples without discarding their latex gloves after each extraction; and the cups of urine sitting on a table, waiting to be examined. But at this point, nothing shook me. I just repeated "$5,000" in my head. We passed the exam.
Then came our wedding day. It wasn't a large affair. We rented bridal wear, assembled in a restaurant, and took a lot of pictures that made me feel like we were models for a brochure: "Come Get Some Hunks in the PRoC!" The food was relatively normal this time: prawns and clams and Peking duck. After eating, we made our way to the marriage-license bureau and met an elderly woman in her 60s who was covered in gold jewelry. I nodded and smiled. Ah-Ling pushed a red envelope toward the official. Her gold rings sparkled in the sunlight as she walked outside. Ah-Ling poked me in the side and said something in Chinese. I was told this was something to help speed the paperwork. Normally, it would have taken a month. The marriage-license official returned to her chair, leaned back and grinned madly.
A few days later, I received my little red book—the Chinese marriage license—and was on a flight back to New York City to try once again to meet the boss. I still hadn't gotten paid.
JFK again: before the flight home, Jack explained that I was to return to New York to receive the rest of my money and turn in the marriage license. I dragged my three full new suitcases out of the baggage-claim carousel and trotted lamely behind Jack as he walked briskly toward a lanky man leaning against the railing outside the terminal, smoothly sucking on a cigarette.
"Joseph, here she is," he said.
Jack gave me a gentle nudge. Joseph flicked the cigarette to the ground and breathed out smoke. He looked incredibly regal, like a dragon. He grabbed me and pressed a fat envelope into my palm, and his expression quickly dropped from light to dark. "You're too young to know what's really going on, but I like you," he said. "And I want to let you know that this marriage scheme should never be done more than once or twice. Remember that."
A little shaken, I blinked and walked away to catch the red-eye to LAX. I wondered what he could have meant by saying something so serious—I was slightly offended that he thought I could be so naive. But the cash in my hand felt ice-cold and the sensation crept up my arm. Five thousand dollars will kill a lot of second thoughts.
Within a year, I got a call from Bob asking if I wanted to do another job. I couldn't resist. The $5,000 had run out. Nothing I could say about the second husband except that he already had a wife and kid. He divorced them just so that he could have an opportunity to come to America; I was glad to receive a large sum of money in return for my altruistic services.
The second marriage went well, and I came back to the States to do a bit of traveling. The third one stung, though. It wasn't Bob who called that time. Instead, a new woman told me I had been referred to her by Bob. At the time, I was working as a waitress at a diner in Philadelphia and had recently quit to pursue my life of leisure. Friends never questioned me about the $400 Charles David boots or the Diesel jeans. But funds were running low, and I had snooped around back in California to see if there was anyone who needed a girl to go to China. The woman, Becky—I'm running out of corny fake names—asked what Chinese cities I had already been married in.
I answered with a question of my own: "How is it that I can legally marry multiple men in China?"
"Oh, that," she said. "The guys annul the marriage as soon as they enter the States."
She explained that I'd be going to an entirely different city this time around. I said yes in seconds. She told me to report my passport lost and apply for another one. Why? "We don't want the client to freak out," she said. "They're weird like that. Just do it or else you won't be able to go."
So I did, and I was reimbursed for a new passport, and once again, I was on my way to the PRoC with another group of boisterous Asians I wanted nothing to do with.
Guangzhou was still filthy. Everyone was waiting by our guide outside the airport. We had a three-hour journey to an unknown destination inside a stuffy van. I slept most of the ride. When I came to, I was alarmed when I started recognizing landmarks. We were definitely in Thai Sanh, the first city I'd visited. I asked the guide what city we were in just to make sure I wasn't just being paranoid. And when we got to our hotel—the same seedy hotel I'd first stayed in—I immediately called Becky.
Oops I did it again.
She sounded sleepy. There was a 13-hour difference, but what did I care? "You promised me I was going to a different city," I told her. "I'm in Thai Sanh. Is that going to be a problem? Are you sure they always get the marriage annulled as soon as they enter the U.S.?"
"What?" Becky sounded very awake now. "What are you doing there? Oh, my God. You have to convince the lady to send you to another city. There's . . . there's no problem, but I don't want anyone recognizing you. It'll just freak out the clients and create unwanted headaches. Okay? You just have to convince her. She has other clients in other cities. Okay? Goodbye."
She hung up hard, and I could hear it rattle all the way down the line.
The following day, as everyone was receiving their orders, I casually mentioned that I preferred to be in a different city. The guide immediately became suspicious and started to ask questions and quickly figured out I'd been married in China before. Furious, she left me standing at the hotel. I still had $1,000 in spending money, but I was abandoned again. I called Becky, and she flipped out, screeching at me for telling my guide I was a recycle. I tried to explain that I hadn't said anything. She told me to come home. I was so upset, but I was determined to come back with that $5,000. One of the American girls I'd met—Sharon—felt sorry for me, I guess, and recommended me to her contact, a girl named Sally. Sharon was 27 with a son back home in Anaheim. She was homely and poorly dressed in sweat pants and a sparkly turtleneck sweater. She was extremely intelligent, however, and spoke four languages: English, Vietnamese, Cantonese and Mandarin.
Sally was thin and tall, with no ass. She was from Beijing and she was wearing a cheap polyester pantsuit with rhinestones on the lapels. Sally flew Sharon and me to a city called Fuzhou that had actually earned a national reputation for foreign marriages. She set us up at my first four-star hotel. Things were starting to look up. We met my husband. I was pleased to see that he was my age and handsome.
But there were also disturbing signs. Deadlines were delayed; documents were missing. The clinic claimed irregularities in my blood disqualified me for marriage. It was something I had never heard of before, a blood condition so unusual I cannot even recall its name. We spent an extra week going to a doctor they paid to say I was healthy. While waiting for the blood test to come out magically clean, I met another U.S. citizen doing his own special trip. We bonded over how we missed road safety, fresh air, proper steak, hip-hop and people who spoke English. I was happy to complain that this was the most difficult of all my halfway marriages. He stopped me immediately.
"'Halfway'? Are you serious? There's no such thing as 'halfway.' Are you duping these poor guys out here? That's fucked-up."
The boy looked honestly disgusted. I was confused. I pushed him to explain. "Most of these guys out here are banking on the fact that you are going to see through the marriage and sponsor them to come to America," he said. "There is no other way for them to come over. What you're doing is just splitting after the first installment. That's what's so fucked-up."
I felt my stomach lurch a little, and the boy immediately quit speaking to me altogether, staring pointedly at the wall and waiting for his test results.
I called Sally as soon as I could, and she admitted that what the boy at the clinic told me was true. But, she said, she was going to help me do a marriage properly.
And then? And then she took $10,000 from my newest husband, disappeared, and left me in China by myself. I never saw her again. All the contact information she'd given me were ghost numbers.
I ran out my expenses-paid month on my own: I went to massage parlors nightly, and I ate any food I wanted; I flirted with boys I couldn't actually talk to, saw movies I couldn't understand, visited Buddhist temples and the seashore. I still felt I deserved $5,000 just for coming to China, but I made my own way home, empty-handed. When I landed at LAX, there was no one to meet me.
The years whipped by, and I kept using up my resources, usually getting fired or quitting because I was hung-over all the time. When I came back from my third-marriage fiasco, I had to move in with my parents because I didn't have the money to get to Philadelphia. Whenever I was in a rut and had to come up with cash fast, I'd go after my contacts. They were more than happy to oblige a seasoned veteran, and they didn't have to sell it to me any longer. I was sold. Innocence lost. I justified it like this: it's either them or me. Nonsense, since all I really had to do was get a real job and stick with it. But this was so much faster. With each marriage, I felt more and more invincible. Like I could have made a living off these scams forever. My fourth husband was Ah-Sin, a man with rotten teeth who spoke excellent Vietnamese. I was happy to be paired up with someone I could actually talk to. He lived in a village two hours outside the city of Nanning. He kept trying to hold my hand outside of taking pictures, and I had to remind him—without being too impertinent—that our marriage wasn't that real. On the drive to his hometown, we hit a monsoon. Uprooted trees toppled behind stiff sheets of rain; villagers slipped and slid around the taxi. We crawled into his village four hours behind schedule. I looked around and saw a community that was ravaged by poverty but was also lush, green and marshy. The only local lodging available was a run-down motel with amenities like mosquito netting, indoor plumbing and a rusty fan, plus minimal mildew buildup on the bathroom tiles and a minimal sewage smell.
Ah-Sin had some serious balls—he straight-up asked if I wanted to share a room with him. I gave him my best go-fuck-yourself glare.
The fifth marriage was scary. My husband Ah-Kwan was a gangly, awkward young man with thickly calloused hands and the rotted teeth and sexual delusions of No. 4—there must be something in the water around China's southernmost cities that makes these fakers think they'd get fringe benefits off me. Most of the time, they spoke Vietnamese, since we were so close to the border. Ah-Kwan's family were refugees in Vietnam during the Japanese occupation of China in the late 1930s, so they regarded me as their darling little Hanoi Honey. I didn't bother to mention that my family was from Saigon, though they should have guessed it by my accent.
Favorite fifth-marriage moment: during a 3 a.m. prostitution sweep in my hotel, the police knocked on every single door and asked for passports. They told us—I was with a group of girls; our male guide, Tom, was in a room downstairs—that we had to go with them to the police station. We were unwilling, and the police left to go knock on other doors. We slammed the door behind us and locked it tight. We dialed Tom, but he never answered. The knocking stopped, and we waited in the dark all night for police to kick the door open. At daybreak, I got my balls up and opened the door: empty and quiet. I took the elevator down to see if our guide was around, but no one opened his door. I went back up to the room to report to the other girls, who looked completely staggered. The youngest girl—a traditional Vietnamese beauty with long, black hair and wide almond eyes—timidly explained: "Tom is at the police station. He got charged with having a hooker in his room."
So. Our guide was out of the picture. Luckily, I had picked up enough Mandarin to get us back to Guangzhou and then to the United States. In marriages six and seven, I used my first doctored passports, altered to appear as though I had never been to China. As a repeat bride who could only report so many passports stolen, the contacts in the U.S.—Bob, Becky and friends—would steam off old visas, then take the new visa and sticker it over the old entry and exit stamps. On the seventh trip, Chinese customs officers flipped through my passport over and over, noticing the old stamps when they held the document up to the light. They questioned me for half an hour, wanting to know if I had any other documents with me—obviously meaning the marriage license and the notary documents. I could only play stupid, eventually turning into the vulnerable, frustrated female and weeping and acting confused about why I couldn't just board my plane and go home. They let me go, unable to prove anything, and I kept crying, from relief instead of frustration.
I landed in New York, in the great blackout of August 2003. JFK was chaotic enough for me to push through without serious trouble. U.S. Customs held me for a half-hour of rapid questioning but let me go. They didn't look happy.
I decided that I'd go in one more time. It had been four years, and I felt a little ragged. My conscience had revived itself enough to put an edge to the way I'd been living my life—ripping off people who dreamed of coming to America. But one more time would give me the capital I'd need to set myself up in San Francisco and the momentum I'd use to erase all ties with the marriage rings. I felt like Johnny Depp in the cocaine epic Blow—I'd like to think of myself as the bloated cocaine dealer who only wanted a bit of dirty money to put him on the path to righteousness.
And this last husband wasn't even in China. He was already in California. We'd already met in Irvine in December 2002, had married in Santa Ana that same month, and would interview with the INS—the last part of the operation—in October 2003. Eight days later, I'd ride shotgun in a friend's pickup truck to San Francisco.
Call him Chow Yun Fat: husband No. 8 looked exactly like the Hong Kong action star, though a bit thinner. He was a very sweet man and soft-spoken. I respected him in a lot of ways; he had spent 10 years in Tokyo, gaining experience and enjoying himself. His Japanese was impeccable. We both loved eating at Taiko. One night, we went to Dana Point to take pictures for the photo album I was faking and spoke with an elderly couple. I used that as an opportunity to warm up for the INS interview, telling her that we were newlyweds and weren't able to afford to go on a honeymoon because we'd bought a new home.
When we walked into the immigration building in Santa Ana, we had to have looked nervous. But the trick is to look legal-nervous, not felon-nervous. The U.S. marriage wasn't supposed to be a problem, my contacts told me. But the feds knew we were coming—walking right in, all by ourselves—and once my interview was over, the six Homeland Security Agents swept through the door. This is the part I feel most sorry about: Yun Fat's distressed, heartbroken, confused face, the last thing I looked at as they hauled me upstairs.
I cried as they WROTE out ASTATEMENT, cried as they poked me for answers, cried as Deputy Fanny Pack holstered his six-shooter and gave me a granola bar. That was nice of him. They started with a fat manila folder that they set down in front of me. "We have some photos of people that we took at the airport," they asked. "Could you give us a positive ID on any of these women?" Becky was in the lineup, clear as day. No one likes to be a stool pigeon. "Can you tell us her name?" No, I said. She gave me fake names. "How did you come upon this scheme? Did you realize what you were doing was against the law? Were you forced into any of these marriages? Did they threaten you in any way?" Their dossier was as thick as my wrist—they knew about the marriages in China, the plan with Yun Fat, even the traffic violations and tickets I'd racked up as a teenager. "Would you be willing to wear a wiretap and go undercover?" The agent looked absolutely serious. That was when it became surreal, I'm-living-in-a-Grisham-novel surreal. I said so out loud; someone wrote it down. I told him I wouldn't go undercover, afraid of being shot down by angry mobs of Chinese/Vietnamese dudes like an Oriental Sopranos. "You're probably right for being cautious," he admitted. "We just heard about a guy losing his ability to walk over shit like this." I blinked. "Okay, that's all the questions. I just want you to know that you engaged in a serious national-security risk. Any of the guys who might have possibly leaked over from these marriages could be a potential terrorist."
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Amazing. I shook my head and exhaled. His stern gaze unsettled me, but I left it at that. There wasn't any reason for me to speak up in defense. They knew it all. It would just be a matter of paperwork now. As I signed my statement, I noticed their crackdown was called "Operation Newlywed." Cute. The deputy gave me a consoling look and stretched his arms above his head.
I know it could have been worse. I could have been sent to China and tried there. I could have been excommunicated to Vietnam, banished forevermore, had I not been a citizen of the United States. At my sentencing hearing, I was required to write a letter of contrition to the court. The judge found it puerile and suggested I seek psychiatric help because I apparently didn't understand the severity of my case. My lawyer pulled me aside after the gavel hit and said, "I know you're just naturally snotty and sarcastic. But you know what's happening, don't you?" I nodded. I understood that I was going to Club Fed, knitting mittens, pressing license plates and practicing the sexual experimentation I missed out on when I didn't go to college. That would last five months. Then I would get a cool blocky, bleeping anklet to wear on house arrest for another five months.
In the meantime, I'll hang out with my friends and endure the endless shiv, shank and lesbian jokes. I will not participate in the upcoming 2004 presidential elections. I know I can never go back to China ever again, and I'm sad because it really is an amazing country. There was so much I didn't get to see: Shanghai, Beijing and the Beijing punk scene. I won't ever be able to gamble in Macao or lick the colossal ice sculptures in Harbin. And I know I don't sound apologetic enough, but that's because there really is no remorse. There's just shame. You understand the difference.
All names have been changed in this story.