Friday, July 18, 2008

Tweaking the Tiger

Tuesday July 8 2008, Tweaking the Tiger.
CX405 (Cathay Pacific) to Hong Kong, and KA (Dragon Air) to Shanghai

If the Chinese (the PRC that is, not the ROC) weren’t so paranoid, then it wouldn’t be half as much fun to mess with their minds. I was on a business trip that for once was not dealing with some sort of crisis or emergency. The trip was scheduled far in advance, everything was pre-planned, my meeting rooms were reserved, and I had a nice tight and dry agenda for my time in Hsinchu Taiwan (that’s in the ROC if you don’t know). In fact, I even had Wednesday (July 9) scheduled as on off day, and I planned to rent a car and go touring on the East side of Taiwan, viewing the cliffs and the ocean shore roads in Hailein that I have not yet seen.

But as the poet John Dunn said, “the best laid plans of mice and men, oft gang awry” and I should have known from my past history in Asia that something, or somebody, would throw a monkey wrench onto my plans.

It started Monday afternoon, and by Tuesday AM the situation at the Shanghai office required a personal visit, and that visit would involve about 6’ 4”of bad attitude. Some butts needed kicking, and some minds needed to be reset onto the right path. Since I was nearby, and I have a multiple entry visa for the PRC, I either got volunteered or drafted for the trip. Maybe I was Shanghai’ed. Really irritating, but I can still get to London on Thursday. Only now it will be from Shanghai (via Zurich) instead of direct from Taipei. It’s a detour, a change of scenery, a stop for a good old fashioned lambasting, but I’m still in London in time for Friday’s meetings.

Of course I was now leaving Taiwan with a bit of an attitude problem, and since I was feeling pretty pissed, I decided to take out some revenge on everyone Chinese (PRC of course, not my ROC friends). I packed all my business clothes, ties, boots, my briefcase, and my suit jacket into my suitcase. What I wore was some dungarees, grungy sneakers, and a bright green tee-shirt from the Shooters bar in Ft. Lauderdale. It’s a tee shirt with a BIG yellow logo right over my heart that says “Shooters”. I bought two dozen laser pointers in small boxes from an electronics store, noticing that they were made by the Bullet Line Mfg company, and the grey silver boxes all say “BULLET” on them in big black letters in English (and the same in Chinese on the other side), and I put all 24 in my carry-on bag.

Starting to get the picture yet ?

Topping it off, I wore my Gloomis baseball/fishing cap, the one with the 4 inch long skeleton of a fish above the visor. Yeah, I was setting the stage to have some fun with the officials in the PRC.

Right now the entire PRC is freaking out about the Olympics, and they are approaching a state of total paranoia about any visitors who might create a problem, or do something really insane (in their eyes) like holding up a picture of the Dalai Lama in front of the Olympic TV cameras in Beijing. Just think about it: The Dalai Lama has not set foot inside the PRC in over 50 years, ever since the goose-stepping PRC army invaded his country and started shooting unarmed monks. But after 50 years, just his photograph is enough to send sharp spikes of fear deep into the hearts of the rulers of the most populated country on Earth. Am I the only one who thinks that is funny? (And I mean odd funny, not laughing funny)

In the land I come from, we call it freedom of speech. Although it may be uncomfortable for some, I have full freedom to walk down Pennsylvania avenue carrying a burning effigy of George (W that is, not King George the 3’rd), although it could just as easily be one of Hillary or of Barack. That’s what freedom of speech is all about. Freedom. But in the PRC they question you, they arrest and jail you, sometimes they beat you up, then they throw your family out of their apartment and fire your brother from his job. This is because you are a subversive element, a radical, a counter-revolutionary, and generally not a nice person. All of this is going to happen because you believe that it is wrong that the government of the most populous country on this planet can run rough shod over the human rights of every minority in their country, just because they know that they can get away with it.

OK rant over, back to this story.

Since the PRC does not recognize the ROC as a real country, I can’t fly directly from ROC to PRC. (Well, actually I can, but those flights only started this month on very select routes, and they don’t include Taipei to Shanghai). Instead I have to take a routing that puts me thru Beijing, Seoul, Macao or Hong Kong. I chose HK, since that is the hub for Cathay Pacific, which is my second most favorite airline in the world. In HK I’ll get off CX 405 and transit to KA, an airline known as Dragon Air (I’m not making this up, that is their name) to get to Shanghai. Anyways, I’m getting wound pretty tight. I have to leave a nice quiet interlude in Taiwan, fly to Shanghai to yell at a couple of recalcitrant assholes, and in order to do so I have to go 3 hours out of my way because the clique of geriatric octogenarian inbred chimpanzees that run Beijing can’t accept that CKS (Chiang Kai Shek) outwitted them in 1949. Yeah, I’m ripped. And 3 or 4 rum and cokes in the Cathay lounge in Taipei plus the two glasses of champagne and a cognac on CX 405 really have me rolling.

And now I can get to when the fun starts. After landing in HK I had a quick layover (one beer, one cigarette) and jumped on the flight to Shanghai. But as the last step of your arrival in Shanghai, after passing through all of the immigration controls and customs, the f---ing paranoid mainland PRC now make you go through an additional X-ray screening. This is one more security check, one final time, before you leave the arrival terminal, even though you have already been through this at least once, and maybe twice, before you got to Shanghai. I know this, and that is how I shaped my strategy to freak them out. With so many planes always landing in Shanghai the queue at the final exit security checkpoint is legendary. The PRC goons try to move things along quickly, but there are usually only 2 lines, and sometimes just one. And I got “lucky” today. There must have been a half dozen flights arriving at the same time, and everyone was walking as quickly as possible (without running) to get to the final X-ray screening, knowing that the line was going to get very long. What the poor bastards behind me in my line did not know was the stunt I was about to pull on the PRC guards.

Looking back at it, it was the most fun I ever had a security screening. (Excluding the time in San Francisco when I saw a carry-on bag full of dildos get dumped out, and one of the vibrating ones came alive, and it started dancing on the metal inspection table). Well, except for that, this was the most fun. The PRC guards had themselves a freak show when a carry-on bag containing what looked like two dozen armor piercing 50-caliber rounds of ammunition went through X-ray inspection.

Yeah, it was a pain in the ass if you were behind me in line on Tuesday July 8’th at about 10 PM in Shanghai. And for that I do apologize in absentia.

But it took every bit of control that I had not to burst out laughing at their antics. I had nothing with me, or on me, or in my bag, that was in any way illegal, or banned from being carrying on an aircraft But they reacted like I was an international subversive counter-revolutionary super agent, sent to the PRC with the intention of toppling their inept and corrupt government.

I’m going to bring down the communist government of the PRC, with two dozen laser pointers, a baseball cap, and a tee-shirt from Florida ? Hell, I didn’t even have a Dalai Lama poster with me. What are they afraid of ?

Sorry, but in cases like this you pretty much have to laugh at them, because I doubt that there is anybody on this planet who will laugh with them.

But of course, just like in the USA, freedom of speech (or the freedom to carry 2 dozen 50-caliber sized bullet shaped laser pointers) does not mean freedom of consequences. I anticipated I might have some “issues” leaving China, so in order to make my 9:30 AM flight to Zurich on Thursday, I got to the airport by 7 AM. Sure enough, when I finished checking in at Swiss Air (LX 0189) for the flight to Zurich, the very polite lady kept my boarding pass and passport, and asked me to step aside.

In a Shanghai minute I had 2 representatives of the PRC escorting me and my luggage to a special screening room. They took everything out of everything. They unpacked every item from my luggage, my carry-on bag, and my briefcase. Every item was held up, inspected, patted or shaken, and placed aside. They checked the lining of my luggage, opened every zipper and flap, went through my shaving kit, my toothpaste, my Right-Guard, and every bag of tea and the small rations I carry of granola bars, coffee, sugar and creamer in my luggage. Their English was exceptionally good. These guys were not your average drones. This was their “A” team, the pros. Many years ago in Hong Kong I had an incident with some of their brethren, and I knew enough from that encounter to zip my lip, to be polite, and to just answer their questions. Don’t try any small talk, don’t try to ease the tension, just deal with it. Stand up straight, never let them see you sweat, and keep yourself on an even keel. After about an hour of this attention, and routine questioning about my trip, the hot water (now at my knees and rising fast) got considerably warmer when goon #1 left the room with my passport and immigration paperwork in his hand. I heard the “click” of the lock after he left, just as the other one asked me for a business card.

I don’t know. Maybe it was the Olympic spirit, maybe it was the phase of the moon, or maybe it was just good planning. I had left all the laser pointers in the office in Shanghai, and there was absolutely nothing in my luggage that would have aroused the suspicion or interest of anyone. I was as clean as a whistle. After being left alone in the screening room with goon #2 for about 15 minutes, goon #1 came back, handed me my passport, said “Thank You”, and handed me a form to fill out.

The form ? It was a comment card on how I felt the security screen had been handled. Did I feel it was “too long” or “about right”, all the usual stupid questions. I filled out the form (the screening was “too long”) with them in the room, repacked my bags, and then I was escorted directly to my gate, bypassing all of the airport security screens and immigration check points. They put me at the head of the line to board the flight, and waited with me the last 2 minutes until boarding started. At the end, each one shook my hand, wished me a pleasant journey, and they stood there to watch me walk onto the airplane to Zurich.

You know, life is full of surprises if you want to take a few adventures.


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