78 - Post Part Umm

Problems with the post

A colleague of mine, R, has tales to tell on a par with Wine into Water (see).

R’s mum wants to send a suitcase of extras from Britain. In the fullness of time it arrives in Qilly Qingdao. R receives a message that it has arrived at the airport. She has less Mandarin than I do, so is leaning heavily on our staff Girl Friday for assistance; in this case, so to speak, the senior Girl Friday. R wonders why the case cannot make it the last little bit from airport to flat. Ah, there are ‘customs’ problems.

So the two ladies go to the airport to try to expedite the customs issues. You’d think: NO, they go to the Customs Office first (different bit of town), to gain the piece of paper that will ‘apply for’ picking up the suitcase a week later. Think of this as raising a requisition for service. The building is completely un-signposted and even the people that live and work close to it (within 50 metres, do not know it exists. Add several more hours of frustration.

So the two ladies then go to the airport another week later. They go to the obvious counter. They receive some explanation that makes no sense and fill in a number more forms. They can see the case, behind the counter (for which you might read, behind the guys being obstructive). They are sent to another terminal in the airport, freight. Meanwhile, the case is travelling parallel to them, on the other side of some notional clearance (customs clearance?) barrier. The various parts arrive at the new location and what is presumably a different official plays the game with paper, including opening the case to inspect contents and argue over what is listed as inside and what is not.

There is particular issue over books (are they anti-China?), over various clothes (potentially very embarrassing), and sets of CDs, as if these are going to contaminate the whole 1.3 billion¹.  Argument is thoroughly unsatisfactory, of course, as the purpose of each set of questions is never clear. All to easily one finds oneself in a situation where your reaction is “Okay, if that’s the way you feel, you keep it; I’ll do without”. Also, you’re left wondering why this is happening: particularly, is this the prelude to wanting some financial assistance in the wallet department – which is how you would view the events anywhere else in the world.

Eventually the contents are cleared. But no, you can’t have the case here, you have to go back to the first counter. This is a non-trivial piece of travelling, a good 800m. So return to first counter, thinking this is a done deal. No, we have to jump through some more hoops, sign away the rest of the un-lived (and on the evidence, unloved, here) life and promise to send Christmas cards before one can actually lay hand upon package.


Poor R.

About four months later, a departing (departed; left, not deceased) colleague with a neighbouring apartment asks that R send a case (oh, no!!) of belongings to his new site outside China. R packs the case with what is left in the flat as per request, seals it carefully and rings DHL for collection. The guy arrives, cheerfully takes the  case and yippee, that’s another thing off the list. No it isn’t, he’s back inside ten minutes with a load of questions. This results in opening the case (read: ‘can of worms’)—of course with no privacy—and the saga takes up it’s second phase. At one point a table tennis ball is pounced upon as contraband, or is it terrorist material? Bouncing it on the floor to show what it is, doesn’t stop it being cellulose (and therefore I guess, seen as nitro-cellulose). Okay, let’s take that out…. At the third item to be picked upon in this way, R loses it and boots him out.

When she has calmed down, the case is still there and it still needs sending. UPS’s turn. No ma’am, we won’t have a problem. Well, not until the guy arrives, sees the case and destination and something trips (we have no idea what) and we start some of the same performance (different actors and authors but same basic plot).

Another week goes by and Girl Friday becomes more and more involved. Oddly enough, this is a situation where (apparently, we must qualify any observation by being clear we don’t necessarily recognise what we are seeing what we think we see) the more information is exchanged the less progress is made.

The problem is the problem in front of us in a horribly linear way. I have seen a table tennis ball; I have seen a note that explosives have been packed in a tennis ball; I recognise no difference (the extra word doesn’t inform); I ask what the ball is made of, what is inside; I hear, say, cellulose; that is partly recognised as having common cause (sorry, sound) with an explosive I have heard of (well, partly heard; didn’t pass chemistry, that’s why I’m a delivery guy), so we have a problem. We can’t proceed with anything until this problem is dealt with. Now, if that is ever resolved…  —oh, the customer will remove that from the package…. Well, now I’ve triggered the search and destroy routine, so we will look for more things to persecute…. Get the idea?  Whatever the purpose of the ‘let’s be secure’ training was never absorbed, only the actions. We see this an awful lot here: we do it this way; Why?; Don’t ask stupid questions. (not, you notice, “I don’t know, I’ll go ask”). Going to ask a higher-up of any description is anathema, because it would be declaring you have a problem and that implies the boss didn’t explain your job properly, which makes you critical of his/her behaviour as a boss, which is unacceptable loss of face for them, imposed by your action, which is even more loss of face for you (see Issues of Face)…. Get it?

We see this typified at airport security – not the luggage bit, the carry-on baggage bit. As a seasoned traveller you discard watch, phone, wallet, pen etc to your carry on; you take the lap-top of the bag and, when presented with a line of trays, drop bag in the first tray and laptop in the next, coat too, if necessary, and head to the metal detecting portal. You pass through with no beep, grin at the girl with the wand and still she puts her hand down your trousers (in the pockets), feels your ankles, sniffs your armpits and so on (read cross-gender if female, Murphy demands it). Once in a blue moon (footnote, when two full moons occur in the same month) you get a grin back a little thank you (xiexie, here) and you go grab your bag and saunter off towards your gate, re-robing en route. But mostly you are treated as if the gate alarm beeped, detached itself, screamed and leapt around shouting “Terrorist!!”.

C & I saw a wonderful example of this in NZ over CNY [mathematicians, that’s an algebraic division, whose result is a location in 4-d space]. The NZ authorities are concerned about incoming biological threats and currently have problems with fungi (not Australians, they’re fun guys). So one official nicely asked if we were going tramping (dressing down, sitting on the street and asking for money to fly home); we said yes so he asked about our equipment, what sort of exploring we had in mind. He then made a note and the next guy in line believed all we’d said (a judgement call) and asked what we’d used the kit for recently. This resulted in not looking at our walking poles, which were unused, but looking at our boots, where mine were on my feet, and therefore it was prudent to make me tread (not tramp) in some anti-biological juice before proceeding. So these people understood what they were doing and make decisions based on thought. In China we see (far too much) parroting of behaviour with no thought at all, which, one notes often, means that security is failing, though it looks as though security must be excellent. All façade and worryingly little substance. Understand (call to the censor) that I’m on the side of thinking beings and on the side of having intelligently applied security; I like China and what it could so easily be.

R has to read this and fill in the gaps. I am sure I missed at least one whole scene.

Imagine this on the stage: it would have to be pantomime, doncher fink?

DJS 20120218

1    Or is it 1.6 billion? Recent surveys showed there might easily be a counting error; how can a country the size of Europe lose (worse, find) an extra population the size of the whole of the USA, which happens to have the same area as China?  I am aware that I rant about this statistic; I find it completely credible and incredible simultaneously. A real counting problem.

What I have been saying recently (2016) is that the admitted likely error in the Chinese count is the same as the actual population of the USA, a country with the same area. So my attitude to US migration has changed completely—they could fix the whole world’s migration problems and still be nowhere near China’s crowding levels.


© David Scoins 2017