Dispatches from The Middle Kingdom: **Planes-II**, Trains, and Automobiles

Posted On: Tuesday - September 5th 2023 6:01PM MST
In Topics: 
  China  Peak Stupidity Roadshow

There'll be a whole lot of the "Dispatches" posts, but I'll go ahead and link to previous - only 1 right now - posts on traveling in China. (Continued from Dispatches from The Middle Kingdom: **Planes**, Trains, and Automobiles.)

We got all of the (China-made) bells & whistles!

In the last post, Peak Stupidity mentioned we'd write more about the international part of our travel to and from China. I won't get into the details of the flight itself - except to note that we deviated from the Great Circle route enough to miss what would have been many hundreds of miles in Russian airspace. Now that COULD have been due to the ride, some weather, or operational concerns*, but somehow I think it was more than that.

This was an American-based** airline, so the service is what I've been used to: OK or good, depending on where you are sitting. "Native speakers" (2, I believe) can be younger, but the F/A's have lots of seniority and what goes along with that.

The big change I saw as compared to trips 10-15 years back is how Chinese the passengers are. Sure, many may be American citizens, but I'm talking ethnically Chinese here.*** 15 years ago, I'd say the passenger population was 60-75% American - at least White people. Now, it's no more than 25%, and I don't see why this flight wouldn't be representative - There was no big Chinese holiday in progress, moon cakes, or whatever, speaking of which, they eat moon pies in China now too, but not American ones - unfair trade practices are ubiquitous. "They" doesn't just mean our party. ;-}

Yes, China is rising rapidly economically, and America is descending. Whether the passengers were 1/2 American citizens or not, it's China running the show now, or calling the shots, it seems. (This post on a very minor issue, with our only Peak Stupidity prequel post as of date, gets that point across.)

It being China, everyone had to GTFOTP, now, dammit! I understand this to some degree, as there can be lines for customs/immigration. Yeah, but they have machines now. One of these is what's shown in the image above. It didn't work. The guy next to me's machine didn't work. None of them worked, so we just had some guy look at the passports and visas. The reason this was not so intense as it'd been a long time ago - see Chinese Immigration NON-Stupidity - is that finger-printing and more so, facial recognition, are ubiquitous in China now. That's one of the things I have been thinking about and part of the reason I wanted to see for myself how Orwellian the place is getting. Cameras and the software/databases/AI behind them are how China keeps track of people now, most especially foreigners coming in (and going out, but that'll be another post).

That's us.

Maybe it was our being foreigners, but things were not as clear-cut as they are entering the US - this is customs, where Snoopy checks for bananas and they may be interested in any REAL money, and this is immigration control, where we mostly look like foreigners ourselves and generally give the real Americans the most shit. Nah, I couldn't really tell what was going on at some check-points there in Shanghai airport. There were multiple layers, as there were on the way out. This may have been do to my making a connection rather than leaving to the streets of Shanghai.

Then came the funny part. The Chinese version of the TSA was full of hard-working mostly young people. They were mostly slim, including the young lady who had me spin around quickly as she looked for... I don't know in my pockets. They worked much harder than the American TSA (not that I agree with the idea in the first place), but I don't think they worked smarter. I've had some of the same stuff in this one case for years - the guy kept running it back through the machine. "Oh, those are keys!" Run the keys through, along with the bag againg. "Oh, that's a phone charger? Run the charger through, along with the bag.. "Oh, lots and lots of coins!" (That gets the Americans once in a while too.) It didn't help that we couldn't communicate other than with hand gestures. I believe the Americans kind of figure "hey, those are keys, those are coins, and that's a charger."

The last time I tried to communicate with the young man who was working so hard to see what the cool stuff was in my bag was when I wondered myself "Where'd I put the key fob?" See, the other keys are all on one keychain, while this one is too big, hence goes separately. I asked the guy using hand gestures to run the bag one last time, lucky number 8, so I could see where that key fob was in the x-ray picture. He didn't get the concept of my using the security machinery to, you know, like, help me with something.

With the surplus of time I had to make that connection, the bag search was just amusing. However, I'd say the whole China international travel experience is worse on the China end than it is here. Getting on trains had some of this same security mess involved, but then it was all Chinese domestic travel. Finally, don't get fooled by the initial bag screener machine near the outside of the airport. You throw the bags in, someone sort of watches, and they come out the other end in a few seconds. I think they are designed for masses of metal the size of small hotel safes. That's just the beginning though ...

PS: Health forms: This was a joke. Before boarding the plane in the US, one had to do an on-line Chinese health form. The interface was clunky, and I had a real time of it. There were questions about the Chinese destination(s) and contacts there. I finally got to the actual health survey. There's a big [ ] NO on top of a series of symptoms. If you don't click that one, you KNOW you're gonna have a time of things, so everybody does, including me, the guy who entered the country with quite the sore throat. Nobody cares! ... till they do again...

* You don't hear much from the pilots about all this on the long flights as the announcement must be translated, so they take twice as long and a) people want to sleep or b) watch movies or play video games. These announcements interrupt these. Also, people like me are an exception to the rule that "NOBODY CARES!"

** I'll just write "American" from here on, but I wrote it this way once to distinguish from specially American Airlines, the company. (It could only be 3 though now, American, Delta, or United.)

*** Only way to have gotten a good number on this distinction was to have gotten off the plane first and watched the customs lines. I had other things to do, and Peak Stupidity doesn't pay me enough for this kind of thing. $0 goes quickly...

Wednesday - September 6th 2023 6:51AM MST
PS: M, that might be for military overflights. Air carriers have agreements - when the countries are getting along to allow overflights (with whatever stipulations) and when they're not to specifically disallow them. Between Russia and the US, I'm sure nobody but the most extreme Neccons want any confusion.

Back 15 or so years ago, I watched the flight map on-board and saw us coming over the very eastern part of Russia and down across Manchuria. It's always amazing to see what's the real shortest route, from, say, the US midwest to Peking for example. There are probably web sites that are pretty good, but for me, I like to look a the physical globe to see this, with a piece of thread.

Then, there were flights from NYC - JFK to Moscow on Delta Airlines (and probably others) to Moscow, going back only 6 or so years, by my recollection. We were making tentative plans - Moscow, then a train to St. Petersburg. The warmongers in Washington had to screw it up...
Wednesday - September 6th 2023 3:13AM MST
The Russians have never allowed over flights. In World War II, when the Americans were *giving* them planes (as opposed to *selling* them to the British), they had to fly over the Alaska route and hand them over to the Russians at one particular place. As opposed to flying them elsewhere (can't remember where) which would have been safer for the American pilots, but would have allowed them to overfly part of Soviet territory.
Tuesday - September 5th 2023 8:25PM MST
PS: I've tried one in China before, SafeNow. It wasn't very good, but that was 10 years go. The software is probably much better now. Good suggestion, as I'm behind the times a lot. (Having a blog rather than a twitter acct., for example.)

I'll repeat again that I HATE the whole idea, but I've gotten along pretty well with most of the TSA people recently. I think it's the customs/immigration people who don't like jokes, from both mine and a friend's experience.
Tuesday - September 5th 2023 8:16PM MST
Your hand-gesture problem prompts me to ask if you ever considered bringing along one of these nifty handheld translators that I’ve seen videos
of. Who the gal at Foreigners 8 is I don’t know, that’s one heckuva gorgeous cheekbone, at least from that angle.

Flying home once in the US, TSA could not discern from the Xray what the “joke-of-the-day calendar” in my suitcase was that I had received as a Christmas gift at the family get together. So I was sent to a separate area to open my suitcase so that they could eyeball the mysterious small flat boxy thing. After the TSA inspector saw what it was, I said: I guess I’m really in trouble now. He replied, No, why do you say that? I answered: “Well, I’ve heard TSA really doesn’t like jokes.”
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