Saturday, November 05, 2011

Little Visa Problems in Big China

You now have to scan your passport to get Wi-Fi access at PEK.

I just arrived at PEK, aka. Beijing International Airport. I am on my way to Seoul on business, so I am just about to transfer here for almost four hours. I have transferred here many times before, and I don't mind since my frequent flier card gives me lounge access. The Star Alliance lounge at PEK is pretty good and the airport is nice, modern and clean.

Too many visas
But today was not like the other times. I had just left my CA flight from Stockholm and was to go through international transfers. Usually that takes a minute. You have to look into the camera, have your photo taken and both boarding pass and passport stamped. This time this procedure proved difficult. Why? Apparently because of my visa to Nigeria which I used this summer. The policeman picks up his phone, calls his supervisor who comes speeding over on his Segway five minutes later. They converse, before the supervisor takes my passport and speeds off with his walking machine. Ten minutes later the policeman offers me a chair. I start fearing that this will take a while. 15 minutes later he has finished the other transfer passengers. He is on the phone again before asking me to follow through a couple of gates. He shows me into "Special Examination Room." Beautiful! No rubber gloves in sight though.

There three other police officers are going through my passport, checking every single visa against a database of scanned visas. Some problems though.

- Is Guinea a country, one of the officers ask?
- That is for Equatorial Guinea, not Guinea. I try to explain.
- Ghana?
- No, Equatorial Guinea.
- Oh. Is that a country or an area?
- It's a country.

I am asked to sit down. One police officer remains in the room with me, going through every visa and every stamp in my passport. That is currently 51 (I just counted).

- Which country is this?
- Grenada.
- Grenada?
- Yes, it's in the Caribbean.

She finds Grenada in an internal database and a word document with a lot of text and several scanned versions of the Grenada visa. She is going through every one of my 51 visas and stamps, apparently looking for any that do not look real.

Country games
- Which country is this?
- Trinidad and Tobago.
- And this.
- Chad.
- How about this?
- Iraq.
- ??
- Central African Republic.
- What?
- Central African Republic.
- Which country?
- Republic of Central Africa.

She finally finds it and checks the database for matching visas. We continue the game for 10 or 15 minutes.

- Please wait here.

She leaves. After 20 minutes I am starting to get slightly impatient. There is nothing much in the 10 square meter big room except for the desk with the computer, one Segway being charged, a microphone in the ceiling, a metal cabinet and a surveillance camera.

I walk out to try to find her. She is standig by three senior colleagues, still going through my passport, scanning every single page. My visas have now likely been added to their collection.

Lounge time
I  am finally allowed to leave, and I go to the Air China lounge. I ask for the Wi-Fi password which has been printed on small pieces of paper in the past. No longer so.

- The passport machine, the woman behind the counter sneers and looks down.

She must be having a bad day or just been asked the same questions way too many times.

Passport machine? Oh yes. You will now have to register your passport in order to get access to Wi-Fi at PEK.

According to Ministry of Public Order No. 82 Passengers online should authenticate by real name.

OK, so not only is large and important parts of the internet blocked. Now, they do also want to know all the personal details of everyone that uses what is left of it. One can only imagine what can and may be cross checked., where I write this blog, is for instance blocked. So is Norwegian Broadcasting Corporations website, Facebook and Twitter. The solution is to use VPN. I don't know if everything I do and surf on can still be tracked, but at least I could write this blog post.

Korea, here we come. Land of the free.

South Korea, that is.