WHEN the Asiana Airlines I was boarding taxied into the runway of the Beijing Capital International Airport at 2 p.m., I had no idea that I was going to experience the most thorough security body check I was ever going to experience. It was the one that produced shivers and goosebumps for the first time in my life.
I followed the rest of the passengers up the first escalator at the arrival area and emerged into long endless, high-ceilinged halls that seemed to swallow everyone and everything inside.
Then everyone has to pass a temperature scanner where we were asked to stop as the machine checks if we have fevers or high temperatures. If you do, you will be quarantined. Have you ever felt your temperature immediately rise at the thought that you might be having a fever? I did just that. Luckily, there was no “beep” when I passed through.
I was too busy taking pictures as I queued at one of the long, slowly moving immigration lines. Looking up, I wondered why the lines on the left side moved faster and discovered those lanes were for Chinese passport holders only. Shooting I went, and only when it was my turn at the counter did I see the No Photos sign and a drawing of a camera with a red X on it. Dropping my camera to my side, I handed my passport to the immigration officer who checked it and returned it to me, pointing me to the longest of all the lines in the area. Transfers, it said.
I was in the wrong lane. Thanks to whoever invented absent-mindedness. Into the rear of the ever-slow moving line, I fell along with all the other passengers who were transiting through Beijing—a merry mix of white, black, brown, and yellow-skinned travelers who all wanted to be out of that line as fast as possible. I didn’t do any advance research about Beijing airport on purpose so I wouldn’t know what to expect. Security was not tight. It was super tight.
The immigration officers checked and double-checked connecting tickets before stamping it okay and the line slowly moved on. Breathing a sigh of relief, I thought I was going to start my airport adventures but I was wrong. The line led to an escalator going down, where long lines of passengers waited.
We had to pass through more immigration officers once again who validated passports and connecting tickets. Bags went through the X-ray machines and passengers had to go through scanners.
Frisked and scraped
At the end of the line, more security officers waited to conduct body checks and I, believe me, it was the first of its kind I encountered. The officer did a raking and scraping motion through my arms and legs and body. I had to hold my breath so as not to scream. I am ticklish and it felt like they were feeling for chips planted in your body.
Then I heard a beep and more beeps from my luggage. The officer looked at his monitor and re-scanned my luggage. When it emerged, he instructed two more officers to open it. In full view of everyone, the results of panicked packing that morning when I just threw everything into the bag and ran to the airport popped up.
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Luggage of shame
What they saw made them and everyone on the long lines gape. You will, too if you are looking at the accompanying photo. A confusion of wires and cables, batteries and chargers, external hard drives, videos and cameras, mounts and tripods, a shirt and white, skimpy underwear (thankfully it was new still with tags on it) and more chargers met their eyes. The impact wouldn’t have been so shocking if everything was packed neatly.
They had my bag go through the X-ray machine twice more times. Then they checked my shoulder bag. Out came two more cameras—a big and a small one, and a video camera. More batteries, cables, iPad, cellphones, and even a recorder. Into the X-ray machine my shoulder bag again went. The silence in the long lines was deafening and all eyes were on my bags as they did a final check. I was told to go over the scanner again. I was already sweating in fear by the time they finally decided I was harmless.
The rest of the passengers breezed through security. I noticed a couple of passengers wearing head turbans received almost the same scrutiny as I did, but mine was still the worst.
24 hours earlier…
I was eating a leisurely Mcdonald’s take-out in Garapan just before midnight when I got a text message from buddy Patrick asking if I was on my way to the airport. I panicked, realizing I was about to miss my flight. I thought I was flying out the next day and had barely time to catch the 2:30 a.m. flight.
I couldn’t blame the security people if they thought I was going to assemble an explosive right there. Anyone would, after seeing the jumbled contents of my bag, but then I didn’t have any troubles at the Incheon Airport security in Korea.
If you transit through Beijing, pack your bags well and check-in unnecessary accessories like batteries and chargers. This is a very busy airport. Leave a lot of time allowance for possible delays. Come with me next time on a quick tour inside the Beijing Capital International Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world.
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