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|| News Item: Posted 1998-12-13

Travel Tales
By Rick Rickman / Freelance

I only have one really interesting story from all the traveling I've done. I guess I'm lucky because I've been able to avoid horror for the most part. The one story I do have is from a trip to China. I was there working and had been in country for 2 1/2 weeks. China owns and operates it's own airline. (CAC). I had been traveling all over and got to Wuhan, a huge industrial city, I had reservations to leave the next day but when I arrived at the airport there were people literally line up out the door and down the street for almost a mile. Not just single file but several persons deep.

I went to the counter and found out that the airline had canceled several flights and there was a huge business convention in town with people trying to leave. I was told that I would have to come back tomorrow. I discussed this with my interpreter and told him I'd like to stay for awhile just in case things changed. I sat on the floor with my bags and just watched as the terminal, which was small, about the size of a medium sized house in
California, became dangerously overcrowded. Curiously, once in awhile someone would arrive at the counter and the person working the counter would had them something. After about 3 hours of waiting a plane actually landed and I noticed that some of the people who had been handed these pieces of paper were escorted to another area past security. I Squeezed my way outside at one point just in time to see some of these secret people
hurriedly boarded onto the plane on the tarmac. A few minutes later the plane took off.

This scenario happened several times throughout the day and finally I convinced my interpreter to come with me to the counter and find out about this situation. No one really said anything of what was happening and I was asked to come back tomorrow. I was hungry and tired at that point so I left and came back early the next day to find the same situation at the airport. There were literally thousands of people there just sitting around. I went to the counter and found that my flight to Hong Kong had been canceled again and was asked to comeback tomorrow.

I told the interpreter that I had to be to Hong Kong day after tomorrow without fail. I had to shoot there. I arrived the next day and found the same situation. When I went to the counter, I was again told my flight was canceled and I'd have to return tomorrow. As I was about to leave a man in a business suit came to the counter in a rush and spoke excitedly to the ticket agent I had just spoken with. I heard Hong Kong mentioned twice in a flurry of chinese dialect which I didn't understand. Anyway, This man was given a piece of paper and then usher through the security area. I decided to wait to see what happened next. Within half an hour a plane landed and this excited guy got on the plane and left. I had this gut feeling something was truly fishy!!!

I told the interpreter to come with me to the ticket agent. I told him that I know that he just sent the man behind me off to Hong Kong on that last plane and that I was here doing work for the Chinese government. I had to be in Hong Kong tonight to do an important job and it would be humiliating to me and to the chinese government if I was unable to make this appointment. I knew from past experience in China that they are big on not
embarrassing anyone. He told me to wait a minute and he returned with the manager.

The manager asked me a few questions about the work I was doing and then he spoke with the ticket agent and this agent proceeded to give me one of those little pieces of paper. The interpreter told me that I would be leaving in about an hour and forty minutes. He told us to take a seat in front if we could and someone would be coming for us.

About an hour later another business man in a very nice suit came rushing through the crowd to the ticket agent. There was some shouting and some apparent harsh words and in a couple moments a man from behind the counter came over asking me for my little piece of paper. I went to the counter with my interpreter to find out what was up and as I had my hands resting on the counter with the paper in my left hand the agent tried to take the
paper from me. At that moment things got a little tense. I reached over and clamped down on the ticket agents hand with my right hand and held on to his hand with a death grip.

The ticket agent proceeded to try to struggle to get free from my grip but I just clinched down harder. I look right at me interpreter and told here to tell this man exactly what I was saying. I told him that I had been in this airport for three days now and I wasn't going to be here tomorrow. I had a very important appointment with Chinese government officials tomorrow morning and I intended to be in Hong Kong at that meeting. While I was saying these things behind me 6 Chinese Army regulars had surrounded me.

They all had AK's and looked very unhappy. The small man behind the counter was yelling something and the airport manager came out to the counter and he was yelling at my interpreter. I tried to collect all the calm demeanor I could muster and told the man behind the counter that the only way he was going to get this ticket back was to have me arrested. The lobby of the airport was starting to clear out a bit as people tried to give this
disturbance some space. My interpreter's face was sheet white and she really looked scared.

There was a loud conference between the Army officer in charge, the airport manager, and my interpreter, while I stood at the counter holding the agent captive. All at once the Army officer looked me directly in the eye and told the interpreter to tell me to let the agent go. He told me I would be given my ticket and that I needed to take a seat. I did as I was told and for the next about thirty minutes had my own military guard kind of surrounding me. The interpreter told me that they were there to make sure I got on the next plane. Actually I think if I would have had to get up to use the restroom I may have been shot!?

I don't know. Suffice it to say, things were very tense. Anyway, the plane arrived, I was escorted to the plane by my interpreter and my six new best friends, and I arrived in Hong Kong in time for the job. Two days later, I was in Tokyo changing planes and heard news accounts of riots happening in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. There were pictures of a young man in front of tanks on a TV screen at the Tokyo Airport. At that moment it all made sense and that light bulb of understanding came on. It had been part of a travel crack down.

The thing I learned from all this nightmare, was how important it is to never take anything in a foreign country at face value. Especially if its in a somewhat repressive nation. The other thing I learned was the importance of maintaining communications outside the country your traveling in. I hadn't touched base at home for several days during this adventure because telephoning was very difficult and there was a huge time difference
from home. Had I checked in with my wife I would have known about the riots and probably been able to get myself to on of the biggest news events in modern history. It was sure a learning experience for me.

As far as preparing to travel in foreign countries, I think the most important thing to bring is a very extensive first aid kit. I always carry one with substantial pain killers like lydocaine, or novacaine. I carry several suture kits and Iodine or betadine. I always carry a strong antibiotic like Doxycycline and start to take it before I leave the US. Especially if I'm headed for a third world nation.

I've been very fortunate to keep myself healthy because of this practice. It's very important to understand some things about basic sociology and custom of the country you're traveling to. Along with your travelers checks keep several hundred dollars cash with you. You'd be surprised how far American dollars get you in a real bind.

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