Category Archives: China

Abduction in China!

If I don’t write this down now, no one is going to believe me. So here it is.

Anyone who’s ever flown into China from the US knows the hell flight. It’s 15 hours (in my case last night, 17 including the problems with the “baggage”) here, then, normally, a two hour drive to the hotel. This all in a timezone 180 degrees apart from where I come from. I am a veritable zombie when I finally get to my room.

So last night I get to the hotel. I forgot to arrange who would pick me up, but luckily our super-efficient Chinese business unit had left a message for me at reception that Daisy would collect me at 07:30 this morning, along with her cell number.

Our Chinese business unit has moved location and I know that there was some staff turnover that was associated with the move. I also know that some of the Chinese folk chose their English name – something that appeals to them, or is a close phonetic approximation to their native Chinese name. So there are quite a lot of people in the unit I haven’t yet met.

I try not to let my hosts wait, so this morning I was outside the hotel at 07:28. A chap I didn’t recognize walked up to me and asked “Paul?” – exactly on time. I didn’t recognize him, and unsure of his English ability, I asked in slow English “Where is Daisy?”. He said “She not come”. No problem, just glad I got picked up.

Off we go. My sense of direction is quite good and I quickly thought that we were headed in a direction which was not at all what I remembered, but with all of the building and roadworks in this city, I have been taken on so many routes to our offices that I didn’t think there was too much wrong. Also, the hotel is built on a lake, so one sometimes needs to go in all sorts of directions to get to the office.

My driver’s English was a lot better than my Chinese, but there is always a difficulty communicating, especially with my South African accent which the Chinese are not as used to. We were excitedly discussing my flight from the US, the length, that I had flown through Chicago, the timezone difference and what we were planning to do in operations today. He seemed to know his stuff. All the while I was becoming more concerned about my internal GPS telling me that I “should make a U-turn when safe to do so”.

About 15 minutes into the trip, my internal GPS got the better of me and I tentatively, and hesitantly (like a child asking their parent about an upcoming outing that may be cancelled if the weather is bad) asked my driver: “Where do you work?”

The look of abject horror on his face made me think I had just caused another international incident. He ripped his name badge out of the glove box and showed me the logo of a very large American company, also present in this section of China.

I then ripped my business card out of my wallet and he again gave me that horrified look when he saw I worked for a company he’d never even of heard of.

Just as we were making the U-turn to go back to the hotel, his phone rang. He answered it, and yes, on the line was the Paul he’d originally tried to collect.

What are the chances that two Paul’s agree to meet their collective hosts at 07:30 in front of a hotel, that both hosts know a “Daisy” and that perhaps both hosts’ “Daisy” was ill?

Anyway, when I got back to the hotel I met and explained the situation to the other Paul, and went and greeted my real host, who had been waiting for 30 minutes for me.

Airports

Ok, so I’m now officially calling on the Illuminati to do something about the security at airports.

No, I’m not asking that security be stopped. I know it is a multi-billion dollar industry that will never be renounced no matter how overbearing or irrational it is in context of the tens of thousands of daily flights around the world. No matter how much additional time it adds to the already valueless activity of flying, it will forever remain with us. Thanks to those buffoons with box cutters and the other scorched scrotum chap, we’re forever more going to be treated like borderline suicide terrorists when trying to board an airplane.

No, I would like the Illuminati to please arrange a standard for the security checks at airports. For example:

  1. Is it necessary for one to remove one’s laptop from the bag – yes or no? There is now a laptop bag that folds open so one does not have to remove the laptop, but some security checks allow it and others not. Can we please have some consistency here?
  2. Is it necessary to remove one’s shoes? I have once been reprimanded in Germany for removing my shoes at a check. When I explained that they were steel toe-caps, I was told that I needed to put them back on and go through the metal detector and let it decide. WTF???? So I went through – of course the machine went into a panic about the amount of steel it had just detected, screaming so shrilly that everyone in the airport, and outside, simultaneously turned to glare at the source of the obviously detected threat. I was then told to go to the “unsecure” (not my words) side of the check and remove my shoes so they could be individually scanned. What the double fuck? When I came back through the metal detector, the same imbecile smiled at me with a sort of “thank you for your co-operation in making airline travel safer” way. I hope my expression back to him was somewhat less polite.
  3. Can I carry a lighter? If not, matches? I would like to understand the reason for the lighter ban. Really, is there a potential for me to cause some flight diverting emergency with something that cannot really melt solder, never mind burn through aluminium? Or is it some form of subtle anti-smoking thing? Or is it just the security people’s idiocy? In China I have been through some airports where no lighters are allowed, but inside the airport there are lighters chained to the wall in the smoking rooms, so I don’t think it’s the smoking thing. Instead of focusing on my lighter, perhaps you should force all 787 pilots to bring their batteries in for a check: that would be a far better way of preventing in-flight fires and emergencies.
  4. Why can I sometimes not carry my passport with me? While travelling there is only one thing that I never leave anywhere, except my top pocket or my hand – my passport. No matter what happens anywhere one might be, without one’s passport one is totally fucked. I don’t even willingly surrender it to the airline check-in clerk. So what is it about my passport that could be so dangerous that it must go through the super-Roentgen machines with my laptop?
  5. Do I, or do I not, need the sticker or tag marking the bag as hand baggage, and in any case, why do I need it? I am carrying the thing and it has made it though the security with me. If it were possible for me to get another bag from someone inside the “secure” section that had somehow smuggled it there, do you not then think that they’ve probably worked out how to get hold of the tag or sticker? WTF (again)? I have traveled through some airports in India where the order in which one receives the stickers for the 4 (four, quatro, vier) security checks is important. It’s like airport snakes and ladders – get it wrong and you go back to the start.
  6. In international airports, could we please get the most experienced officers to do the checking. I once landed in the US after a flight from South Africa via Europe and, as it is with all smokers, almost pushed the little old lady in front of me to the ground trying to get outside to smoke after the 10 or so hours without one. On coming back in for the security check for the domestic leg of the flight, the woman checking my boarding pass and identification flipped through my passport and then asked if I had “some form of US identification”. I’m not normally at a loss for words but this one threw me. Like total brain freeze. What does one say? I mean, I am showing you my passport precisely because I am in your country as a guest, as someone without any other form of identification. Fuck man, a passport is THE form of identification, above all others. I guppied there for a couple of moments not speaking. The dimwit took this as a sign of imminent danger and pressed the big red button in front of her, that started the rotation of the big red light above her desk and simultaneously the “burr-burr-burr” of the “danger imminent”  buzzer. When the supervisor arrived, she told him “this guy does not have US ID” – in a tone like I’d just been caught with 5 kilos of cocaine in my rectum. The supervisor gave her a look that I think was very similar to what mine must have been. To his credit, he apologised profusely to me and allowed me through, shook his head at Mrs Dunce and walked off.

There are more issues, but if we travelers could just get some standardisation of the above points, I for one, would be a lot less stressed when I fly. Surely by now all of the potential threats to airline safety have been identified and we could just all agree on the steps necessary to mitigate them. Even if the result is a nudity enforcement.

Thanks in advance.

Officers of the Law

I grew up in South Africa during the pre-”end of Apartheid”. That’s not the current ANC version, it’s the previous one. Police officers were downright scary and were respected, even feared.

I now live in the US, where police officers are downright scary and are respected, even feared.

This is very different from the current South African ANC Apartheid police officers who, when I see them (which is very infrequently), are an object of mirth. To explain to people not familiar with the breed: normally an individual with a godzillian butt (100m dash in infinity time because no one can run 100m with a butt like that), wrapped in some form of cotton cling-wrap, with a bright reflective vest, sunglasses that have a gold frame that is so enormous it obscures the entire mid half of the face (like welding goggles, only bigger), and eyes constantly on the prowl for someone to elicit a bribe from, or for a fellow police officer of the opposite sex with whom to have sex. Honestly a pathetic bunch of losers.

Anyway, the point is that I’ve experienced both sides of the police officer respect thing – none and full.

So, when I travel around, I am always befuddled when I see a police officer. Do I bow my head and sneak-a-peak, to make sure they’re not eyeing me? Do I look bold and confident, stare them in the eye with a “I’ve got nothing to hide. Buddy” look? Or do I just turn and walk the other way? Perhaps even the South African “you fucking immoral, incompetent, loser” look?

I think the world has become so paranoid that one is paranoid about not becoming an object of attention. People who get noticed end up on military aircraft on the way to a quiz-show where the prize is retention of testicles.

In China it is easy. One basically falls to the ground and grovels. That’s easy.

In Germany, I just glance. I’m sure somewhere there is a specification for the duration a South African, with American residency, is allowed to stare at a police officer. I have better things to read, so I just give a cursory glance.

In the US, one uses the “I’ve got nothing to hide” but without the “Buddy” look. One then looks away and continues on one’s path. But don’t stare at tall buildings while the officer can still see you.

So in Brazil this morning, I’m standing outside having a smoke and two police officers come around the corner on their motorbikes. These are the first two specimens I’ve seen. I’m curious. I think the safe way to stare is to first look at the motorbike (what brand, engine size, colour, etc) and then move up to look at the officer. This should be respectful enough to be classed as a thumbs-up type of stare. Well, when I finally got to the officer’s head, he was glowering at me as if he was Arnold Schwarzenegger and I was some male hairdresser with a high pitched voice asking him for a date. He was so focused on giving me the “I see you. Arsehole” look that his head had rotated through more than ninety degrees as he drove past and his colleague on the other bike had to tap his shoulder for him to see that he had to brake before becoming lodged in the back of a car that had stopped in front of him.

I guess in Brazil I’ll try the supplication strategy next.