• Matthew Waters

Two Months in a Mob Town

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

Picture this. A distant suburb of a relatively unknown

Chinese city, known for little more than making toys for children. Empty buildings, quiet streets (for China) basically no Westerns apart from ourselves, and you may come close to the district of Chenghai in Shantou City, my home for two months in the summer of 2019. Sounds very boring right? And, apart from hanging around with my new mates in the ‘the compound’ it was boring for the first week or so. But then something happened that made this place very exciting, giving it a new dimension we hadn’t thought of before.

We had just completed our first week of teaching in the language school that was employing us and all 30 of us decided to hit the Karaoke club, a massive thing in China called KTV. In these clubs you could basically hire out an entire room just to yourselves for your whole group for just £10. We had already been drinking quite a bit of cheap Chinese beer and things were starting to get a little rowdy, but nothing could prepare me for just how crazy things were going to get. There I am belting out Ed Sheeran’s ‘Thinking Out Loud’ and out the corner of my eye my friend was telling me to join her, so I did. She took me to this other karaoke room and said to me, ‘Are you ready to see the crazy thing,’ and I am just sat thinking, how crazy would a karaoke room really be, but I indulge what I think is blatant over exaggeration. I was not ready.

She opens the door to a cloud of smoke and the sound of loud out of tune Chinese music, and through smoke I see about six large Chinese men and two of our other friends dancing on the tables beers in hand, one cigarette in their mouth and one behind each ear. I enter to loud cheers and one particularly big, and particularly topless, man greeting me with a beer, a rather sweaty hug and the words ‘my name Deng Zhao!’ I am instantly invited on to the table and am told to drink all of the beer, I oblige, I don’t really know what I have walked into and am truly just going with the flow. No one really speaks English in the room apart from my sweaty friend Deng Zhao and all he can do is tell me he is called Deng Zhao, but it is fun. Watching Deng bust a move with all of his friends laughing and trying their best to talk to us, all while dancing on the tops and throwing bottles in the corner of the room, felt very Wolf of Wall Street, just without the massive lines of coke.

I finally find one man who knows more than my name is Deng Zhao, and I ask him what they are in KTV for and he tells me they are celebrating. I proceed to ask him if it was someone's birthday or something, I was hoping it was Deng Zhao’s, but he tells me something I was not expecting He says ‘We are celebrating a job,’ I ask if it was someone getting a new job, he laughs and says ‘no, no, no a robbery.’ I look at him dead in the face and laugh before realising he was being serious. I look around thinking about what to do, we are clearly in some kind of crime ring. But we are already in too deep and to leave now may look suspicious, plus everyone was having fun, these guys were being lovely, with us. Nothing much we could do apart from stay and have a good time.

So we stay and continue to talk with our new, rather ominous friends. We find out they are a branch of the mob before our night is over and that they will be our friends, good to be on their good side I suppose. We leave and never see eachother again after that one crazy night out.

But that left me and my friends thinking. Mob? We thought China was a completely police controlled state? We thought they could have been lying, but we kept on seeing more and more signs of mob activity, no police anywhere to be seen, no visible security around our school even though it is in a very impoverished area of China but has a group of 30 westerners all with expensive equipment on them. Nut then we just thought, maybe the people of China don’t need that because they are such upstanding and lawabding people.

Then about four weeks into our trip we saw we were sitting on the roof of our school as we often did looking over the city and just outside the school we saw two groups clash into a brawl. One man is struck with a metal pole and is left for dead while the other hop on their bikes and scooter away, he then gets up a couple of minutes later and does the same. There were no signs of this fight happening but then within seconds it began and was over, and these were clearly two rival groups of people. Now they may still have been lying but with all the evidence put in front of us we did meet and were under the protection of the mob, there was definitely no police protection.

But honestly, I have never felt safer in a city. There was almost a feel of well no one can do anything to us or the police will have to get involved and then the mob will be very mad because of the police coming into their area and the perpetrators will face the raff of the mob and of the police. There were no signs of petty crime either. This feeling of safety can also be attributed to the kindness and welcoming nature of the Chinese people, but I didn’t feel as safe in the other cities we visited in China.

It was a crazy ride dealing with the mobsters of Chenghai, but it was eye opening and a lot of fun. I am very aware of the terrible crimes these men may have committed and do not condone mob crimes in China, but all I could see is a fully functioning society under a different type of governance. I hope to see Deng Zhao again sometime, as I hope to see you guys reading our blogs or on our different social medias sometime.

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