A frequent flier's views on flying and travel

Sorry about that

If you are one of the several thousand people who were delayed on arrival in Shanghai airport a few weeks before the Olympics in 2008, that was my fault. And I apologize. Here’s the story…

Early in 2008 I changed jobs and started work for a Taiwanese company, one with worldwide offices, design, and manufacturing centers. After a few months it was time for a tour of multiple locations, partly as a ‘get to know you’ event, but also to provide training on some new tools and advanced techniques. This required a lot of face to face time at key sites, with other regional locations joining by WebEx. One of the larger sites was in Shanghai, and that’s where I headed from Taiwan, via Hong Kong.

I had been to Shanghai before and it usually is an interesting stop, but this was my first time for this company. And as usual, Shanghai was interesting, but not for why I had expected.

Before leaving HQ in Taiwan, I was given some last minute items to bring with me to Shanghai for the staff there. There were the usual documents, some new product information plans, and some office supplies they were running short of, like 3-ring binders and a box of laser pointers. Nothing the least bit out of the ordinary. Nothing I would even need to be concerned about bringing into Shanghai.

Or so I thought.

Getting to Shanghai was trivial, a flight from TPE to Hong Kong, then a connection to Shanghai. This is happening a few weeks before the start of the 2008 Olympics, and although Beijing was the host city, Shanghai was also an Olympic site, and the city was getting ready for an influx of tourists. Which, considering how paranoid the PRC can be about some things, had the potential to be a bit awkward. You have to remember that the PRC is a country where a tourist was assaulted by soldiers for wearing a Sgt. Bilko tee-shirt. Apparently Phil Silvers has too much similarity to the Dalai Lama. Yes, the government in a country of over 1 billion people is scared of tee-shirts. As well as being scared of the Internet, Google, Religion, and a free press. This is the same government that responds to student protests by ordering tanks to run over the students.

But I digress…

Anyways, in order to stop dangerous items like tee-shirts from disrupting the Shanghai Olympics, there was an extra rescreen in the airport after landing. Special officers (armed) and screening equipment were on hand to check you once again for any metal objects, and to go through all of your luggage. After all, the PRC can’t allow tourists wearing Sgt Bilko shirts to be seen on TV and possibly ruin their carefully scripted image of the games.

Anyways, that’s where the problem started. It was my laser pointers.

I hand carried the box with me on both flights that day, and had no problems at all leaving TPE, or during my transit in HKG. And I expected no problems in Shanghai/PVG. Oh boy…

There are many kinds of laser pointers. These were the really small ones, about 2 inches long, short and stubby, with 16 of them packed in a 3-inch square grey box. Standing up, aligned in 4×4 rows and columns. 16 laser pointers in a grey box in my hand carry bag. No problem.

But in Shanghai, they decided that the laser pointers looked like bullets

This is 2 weeks before the first Olympics to be hosted in China

With a passenger who originated in the rebellious Province of Taiwan

Within seconds of seeing this item in my carry on, operations in the arrivals re-screening area came to a sudden stop. Extra security officers appeared from nowhere. Doors were closed, and all passengers trying to get into Shanghai were stopped cold. It was a complete lock down in the arrival area.

I was rapidly (and firmly) escorted into a small room with a mirrored observation window, and it took a while, perhaps an hour, before they were satisfied that these really were just laser pointers. It then took me another 30 minutes to repack my luggage with all my clothes, and everything I had with me. They had even test sprayed my deodorant, and had checked inside the lining of my suitcase, just to make sure I had nothing extra hidden away.

So, if you were one of the unlucky ones on that day in July 2008 who were stalled getting into Shanghai, I apologize. But really, they were just laser pointers.


Nothing in the PRC can happen without consequences. When my visit to Shanghai ended, I was scheduled on a flight to London. Expecting some ‘difficulty’ in leaving China, I arrived at the airport 4 hours before my flight. Difficulty is an understatement. No need to go into details, but when the counter agent hands your passport and boarding pass to an officer, and you leave the check-in area escorted by 2 representatives of the PRC, it is not going to be pleasant.

And it wasn’t.

And I have not been back to Shanghai since.

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This entry was posted on October 9, 2013 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , .
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