Sunday, March 28, 2010

My human trafficking experience

While in China these last two weeks, I killed a lot of time sitting in a bar watching CNN and reading my Kindle. I met lots of people this way, mostly non-Chinese travelers who are in Suzhou on business. In the evenings I would see a few prostitutes, but these ladies were obvious and overt in their business practices. The hotel staff made sure we knew who they were, they take great pride in protecting their regulars.

On a Sunday afternoon I found myself at the bar sipping San Pellegrino as I came down from a nasty bout of travelers distress. An older Chinese woman started to talk to me. By “older” I mean early 30s. Most people in Suzhou are so young that a 35-year-old woman is an oddity. The conversation was cordial. For 30 minutes we talked about California, China, my profession and travel. I thought she was a business traveler. It turned out she was sizing me up for an offer.

Things changed near the end of our conversation. I think she assumed I was unmarried because I was not wearing a wedding ring. She asked if I would like a Chinese bride. I told her no, but she persisted anyway. I’m paraphrasing here but I think it is close to what I remember… I could have my choice of brides from a lineup of girls. All came with papers attesting to their age (18 or older) and their medical purity (virginity). If I agreed to marry a girl, they claim she would move to America as soon as the paperwork cleared (about a year).  All I had to do was put up a few thousand dollars to help pay off the bureaucrats and to defer her living expenses while waiting for her visa to clear. She suggested $250 per month.

At this point my favorite bartender leaned over and said, "It’s a scam”. I smiled and said “Of course.” The term “Duh” does not translate very well.

The woman was escorted out of the bar by what passes for big scary hotel security guards. I never saw her again.

The scam… You pay a “few thousand dollars” for a bride chosen from a lineup of attractive local women (prostitutes). You marry one in a local ceremony (big mistake), and then you pay thousands of dollars helping to support a woman who will never make her way to America. $25o a month is enough to support a small family in China. When you add a computer and a cell phone (to help communicate), English lessons (you need to talk, right?) and a few gifts, well you can rack up some big numbers. And if by chance your wife makes it to America… get a good lawyer.

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