Friday, July 27, 2007

Knives, Knaves and Babes

Recently in Cape Town, Chinese and Vietnamese sailors mauled each other in the streets. After a silly drunken dispute over one of the dockside nightclub prostitutes, dozens of them poured out of the clubs to engage in battle. With fists, foreheads, shins, and feet, they brawled. Bystanders say the groups were pretty evenly matched, but after the cops broke it up, a number had to be sent to the hospital.

The next night, the Chinese came prepared for combat. They armed themselves with knives, picks, blades, and other stabbing and cutting implements. One guy even brought nunchucks! But the bouncers at the three dockside clubs expected trouble, so they frisked the seamen and confiscated their weapons.

The night remained tense. The Chinese were restless, watching the streets for the Vietnamese to arrive. The prostitutes complained that the guys were too too preoccupied to just relax and have a good time (and pay them money). But to the relief of almost everybody, the Vietnamese never came.

For sailors in foreign ports, the knife remains the weapon of choice. It's useful as a tool on the ship, and a handy score-settler ashore. Just eight months ago, a Vietnamese crew surrounded and stabbed to death a Chinese sailor at one of the clubs. Though they don't carry them all the time, if seamen expect trouble, they try to hide knives on their persons somehow. Usually, they're easily detected by the bouncers who merely confiscate them, shake their heads, and send the guys inside.

One club owner says that the Taiwanese seamen used to always have weapons available, even after they were frisked. He long wondered how this was possible. As it turned out, the youngest crewman would sit outside the club with a heavy jacket draped in his arms. He seemed content to just enjoy the night air rather than the disco. But when a fight started inside and spilled into the streets, the Taiwanese collected weapons that were stashed in the jacket. Because the youngster never came into the club, he was never frisked.

A sly ploy. But the club owner put an end to it. He had the cops pick up the boy and threaten him with all kinds of unpleasantness if he didn't desist. He did. Still, the bouncers tell me that sailors sometimes plant weapons in drainage pipes near the clubs so they can grab them in an emergency.

Even a little edge can go a long way in a drunken brawl.

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