Saturday, April 19, 2003

The Marmite Bomb

Jeri and I are on a boat this morning. It actually is a fast boat this time, rather unlike the promised 4-hour ride from Siem Reap to Battambang in Cambodia 3 weeks ago. That ended ride, advertised here and there with attractive posters and zippy write-ups in "Lonely Planet" was endured by our group for 11 hours. This ride is to be a short 60 minutes. There is airconditioning, and other speeding vessels pass us returning to Hongkong. This Turbojet will whisk us to Shenzhen.

We wear surgical masks, we passengers. The numbers are few. A general cloud of apprehension has settled over Hong Kong. There were bright days with optomistic reports and encouraging numbers. "Today only 42 persons contracted SARS". And then came yesterday's headlines. The highest number of deaths in a single day since the discovery of the disease.


We arrived in Shenzhen and then flew on to Hangzhou where we will spend the easter vacation with Ben and Bess. But the security in Shenzhen at the airport was a new chapter in airport security.

When we checked in at the counter, our first problem encountered was that our tickets did not give our full names. No middle names were included. There were 5 of us traveling together. We had 3 different last names between us, and the girl at the counter, seeing longer names in the passports than on the tickets, was convinced that we could easily be imposters. She asked us to stand aside and let the other passengers check in. I refused and asked for her supervisor. The stand off lasted a few minutes, but finally the supervisor appeared. He took the passports and wrote our full names on the tickets.

When the luggage was x-rayed, new problems arrose. Mrs. Faull's suitcase was selected. Now in all of the luggage there were food stuffs. Cans of food, frozen foods for the kids, corn chips, flour, etc. etc. etc. But Mrs. Faull had a bottle of Marmite. If you have never experienced Marmite, your life and sense of taste have been spared. It is a thick paste made from a yeast extract. It looks like chocolate spread and tastes like concentrated soy sauce.
The security guard pointed to this black mass in the suitcase and called Mrs. Faull to explain its presence. The suitcase was opened and the Marmite was examined. Then, in the midst of SARS panic, this unmasked stranger began to open everything in her suitcase and stick his nose in for a sniff. When he was convinced that nothing had escaped his nasal examination, he told her to close the suitcase and we were free to go to Security.
The woman at security was certain that we schemed to smuggle danger on board through the medium of drinking water in sealed evian bottles. She broke the seals and demanded of us, after placing her unmasked nasal openings directly over the now vunerable water bottles, sniffing, yet not smelling anything (since it didn't smell like the sea or a dirty river) that we must drink from our water bottles to prove to her that it was actually water. She then opened my carry-on and was about to poke her hands inside when I stopped her. Her rubber gloves looked as if she had worn them for about 3 weeks. These filthy gloves had been in every piece of luggage available. This woman who represented security made me very insecure as she was about to spread whatever it was on her gloves throughout my carry-on. After I made a demand in sign language that no one could mistake, she changed gloves and put on a new pair. The search ended and we have flown to Hangzhou.

Upon arrival, the State Department sent us an email (since we are registered with the US cousulate in Hong Kong) that we should not go to Hong Kong.

We will most likely return as planned on Monday.


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