Mealtime was a very nice selection of either British or Oriental food, I enjoyed the lasagna especially.
The empties pile was growing at a prodigious rate as it’s a thirsty business flying around the world, defending science, and pushing back the boundaries of knowledge and scholarship.
Besides, it was free.
The lightweights of the crowd, the wiggle-pickers, and the log readers flaked early and were snoring their way to the Orient. The stalwart Russians, the Bulgarian, the Swede, and the Finn were keeping the cabin attendants in shape with their beverage requests. Not to worry, I plan to tip each stoutly upon our arrival.
I thought ahead and ‘smuggled’ a bottle of duty-free vodka aboard. Truth be told, my emergency flasks probably tote up about a liter combined. I kept myself busy with my notes, logistics, field notebooks, and expenses; so I only had to ask for ice, limes, and Bitter Lemon a couple of times during the long flight.
The flight continued on through the night and into the next day. I flaked out myself somewhere over Lake Baikal by my reckoning. The next thing I know, I was being offered a hot towel, tea, and breakfast menu by a stunningly cute and ridiculously attentive diminutive cabin attendant.
The light coming through the cabin windows was intensely bright, as is its wont at 35,000 feet elevation. I wish I could have asked for someone to turn it down a couple of notches.
“Cliff. Could you pull down the window shade? I’m getting zorched over here.”
After abbreviated morning ablutions, I’m sipping some genuinely wonderful loose-leaf black morning tea.
It was augmented by a quick splash of wuliangye
, a delightful Chinese liqueur made from sorghum, rice, glutinous rice, more rice, sticky rice, unsticky rice, rice crispies, wheat, and corn which rings in at 52 percent alcohol. 104 proof
My kind of morning wake-up tea.
Once breakfast was served, I took the time to remind everyone of our mission.
Remember where we’re going. Remember what we’re doing. And remember, these folks probably don’t care much for practical jokes; as I looked directly at Dr. Ivan who made an obligatory fake flatus sound.
Ph.D. Doctor. Academician. And a 12-year old’s comportment. He makes it out of this alive and it’ll be a genuine miracle.
The plane makes a couple of sudden swings. I’ve been through this before, we’re getting ready to land at Beijing Capital International Airport.
“DING!” dings the in-cabin dinger that ding-alerts us that, yes, we’re preparing to land.
Stash that extra beer in your daypack, shove all those extra mini-bottles into your rucksack; we’re getting ready to touch down.
We land, taxi to the appropriate arrivals gate and in merest minutes are headed off the plane into the belly of the airport. I’m last off, to ensure everyone else makes it and to disburse some well-deserved tips to the cabin attendants.
They tried, wanly, to protest, “Oh, no. We cannot…oh, thank you, thank you, thank you.”
One flight attendant hands me a couple of mini-bottles of vodka and a can of Bitter Lemon.
“It is very dusty walk to customs”, she smiles at me.
I do so love to visit the Orient. Furry Godzillas get some mad respect over here.
We needn’t worry. We were all met at the debouchment of the jetway by a pair of electric convenience carts. We were sort of, kind of, more or less, VIPs, so we’re getting the royal service.
I could grow to like this.
We are taken to an off-axis terminal room behind an unmarked door and told to wait.
Of course, the cigarettes are broken out and I am offered a small Dutch dry-cured cigar from Dr. Viv.
“Here, Rock. Try one of mine.” He smiled.
“Thanks, Viv.” I said and joined the combustible crowd. Nice flavor, burns a tad hot though for my taste.
I take the time to check in back home. Not with Es, but with the Agents. I inform them via answering machine that we’re in China, being treated well, on schedule and will be departing to the final destination in a couple of hours.
“Rock, what’s the bloody score?” Cliff asks me.
“Not sure”, I replied, “Nothing from any agency folks. Perhaps they are taken to quarantine geologists now in light of the global Cheap Mexican Beer Virus craziness.”
An official arrives at the door, coughs, and informs us that our luggage is outside. We will surrender our passports and the needful will be done. They will be returned, and we will be taken to our departure gate.
I spoke up.
“Excuse me, but I’m Dr. Rocknocker, the titular head of this special education class. I think I speak for the crowd when I say that we’re not terribly keen on ‘surrendering’, as you say, our passports. We’re world travelers and that right there is no-no number one on the world wanderer hit parade.” I said.
“Yes, Dr. Rocknocker. This was anticipated.” He replied, without stating his name, rank or even serial number, “Therefore, if you wish, one of your party will accompany us to the customs area and oversee the procedure. It is
for your convenience.”
“I understand that and we do appreciate that, but some of us are from countries that have undergone some severe global turmoil in the last few decades. Old habits die hard. Can you give us a minute, please?” I asked.
“Certainly, Doctor.” The official replied. And silently shut himself off.
Or so it seemed, he was very methodical and mechanical.
“OK, guys, here’s the deal. Pony up your passports. Give them to Dax, whom I’ve just elected as official IUPGS ambassador to China.”
Dax does a quick double-take. “What?”
“No worries Dax. It’s a cinch. Just go with Three Ceepio over here and watch over our passports. We’ll hold down the fort on this side.” I said.
“Why me? Why don’t you, as ‘titular head of this special education class’, tend to such duties?” Dax asks.
“Ah, you heard that…” I snickered, “That’s the precise reason. I’ve got to stay and figure out the logistics while you handle some of the ancillary activities. I mean, that’s what second in command duties entail.”
“OK, OK”, Dax exhales in defeat, “Give me your passports, sign a sheet as a receipt to show them we’re not going to be snookered”, as evidently, Western passports, even vague copies, go for major dinero over here on the black market; which we’re not implying is what’s happening here at all.
No. Not in the least.
Dax continues, “Paper trail. Let’s make a real path back from wherever we go. So, hand over your passports and sign the paper. We’ll have Three Ceepio sign it as well once we get him rebooted. Then I go take care of business while Dr. Rock does the needful here.”
Even with the grumbles and snark, we collected a total of a dozen passports, a dozen signatures and once reawakened, Three Ceepio actually signed the sheet of paper we were using to track our documents.
It’s not that we’re paranoid. It’s not that we’re suspicious. It’s not that we’re distrustful. It’s just that we’re very, very careful, cynical, and pragmatic. It’s a survival instinct.
Dax and the Chinese official vacate the room and I wander outside the door to check on our luggage. I had copies of everyone’s bag tags and saw immediately that mine had made it more or less unscathed. It was a real pain in the lumbar region stooping over and checking all those numbers, so I dragooned Viv and Ivan into helping me.
I’d call off the name, and then the last 4 digits of the ridiculously long 18-25 digit tracking number. Viv or Ivan would find the bag and we’d check another off the list. It would have taken me alone a good hour to accomplish this. With Viv and Ivan’s help, 10 minutes later, we're back in the austere waiting room, smoking cigars and taking sips from purloined British Airways liquor miniatures.
All our baggage made it this far. At least, the bag showed up. No idea who or what had been through the interior of the bags, but they all looked intact.
That, in and of itself, was good enough for a couple of toasts.
Dax returned with all our properly stamped, photocopied, re-stamped, visa-ed, and appropriately checked for entrance to our next destination. There were certain countries where if their customs stamps appear in your passport it could cause you to be denied entry. These were all covered with hardly-obvious yellow sticky notes and low-grade sticky tape.
There was a knock at the door and Joon answered. It was an Air China hostess pushing a huge cart loaded with food and drink.
“Hello. Is this IUPGS?” she asked.
“Why, yes; it is,” I replied. “At least, were representatives of that group.”
She pushes open the doors wide as it would go and enters with the cart.
“Courtesy of Air China.” She declared, did a neat little bow and exited before we could say a word.
“Very much like traveling with Dr. Rock”, Volna declares, “We must do this some more often” as he heads to the cart and grabs a very cold can of local beer.
I look at the cart, and at my team members.
“Bon appetite, guys”, I say, shrugging my shoulders and raising my hands in defeat.
Like hungry lampreys on a wobbly Sockeye Salmon, that cart actually shuddered under the onslaught.
Once the food and drink were sorted, Dax continued with his tale.
“Yeah, they were very thorough. Actually had some joker from the place we’re going giving each and every passport the once over. Checking for untoward stamps, problematic visas, and the like Everything was going fine until some knucklehead’s red Diplomatic Passport came up.” Dax chuckled.
“Yes? Hello?” I said, looking up from a very tasty Oriental chicken-wrap sandwich.
“Oh, yeah. ‘Why an American has a Russian Diplomatic Passport’? I didn’t know so I just dummied up. I let them figure it out. A few phone calls later, they hurriedly stamped that passport and shoved it back into the pile like it was made of pure plutonium. Your reputation does precede you, Rock.” Dax laughs.
“They probably called the emergency number inside the front cover.” I chuckled along, “When the Langley operator answered, they probably wet themselves in unison.”
“That”, Ivan pointed out, “Raises even more questions. But I’d rather have another drink than examine that issue here and now.”
“Smart move”, I smiled back to Ivan. He fake-farted back at me.
“Oh, Geez Louise. This is going to be a long trip…” I shook my head in disbelief.
Just a short time later, Three Ceepio arrived back at our waiting area, briefly goggled at the drinks cart that now resembled the post-lunch feeding rig used for the velociraptors in the original Jurassic Park. He announced that we needed to gather our belongings and meet outside for transport to our departure gate.
We gathered up our gear and with cries of “pack out your trash”, we policed the area and left it cleaner than when we arrived. There were 4 electric carts idling along outside, spewing all that noxious angry pixie effluvia into the ether. Our baggage was already gone, explained by one of the drivers that it had already been taken to the plane; and if we’d please be seated, we’d be next.
We zoomed through the surprisingly empty airport terminal towards our departure gate.
A couple of the cart drivers, at the behest of the occupants, were vying to see who could get to our departure gate first; as there was a pile of rubles, yuan, euros, krona, lev, yen, and a few dollars at stake.
It was a near thing, but I wasn’t about to declare a winner. As far as I was concerned we made it there alive and that should have been sufficient to split up the prize four ways. I let the other conspirators handle this little occasion.
Up to the departure desk, and it was a very cursory look at our passports, a taking of tickets, and ushering us onto the plane.
“Sheesh.” I heard someone grouse, “What a puddle jumper. Damn thing’s a tin can and we’re the sardines.”
It was a vintage Boeing 737. Not tiny, but by comparison to what we’re been flying, it looked very small indeed.
We didn’t need to worry, the plane was empty. We were the only passengers on this flight; CA121 Beijing to Pyongyang. Departing 1:25 PM Arriving 4:20 PM.
It’s good to have connections.
Since the airport was so quiet and we were the only passengers on this flight, we were seated, asked our drink orders and sitting back relaxing for only 15 minutes before we heard the doors clatter shut and the jet lurching backward as we push off.
We were asked to drink up so the glasses could be gathered and stored in the galley during takeoff. We taxied a bit, drove left, drove right, and before we even had a chance for some pithy quips, we were airborne headed to our destination.
“Damn”, I said to the vapors, “That was quick.”
We had just leveled out on our ~2-hour flight when the cabin attendants came around with duty-free.
“Last chance to buy!”, they smiled.
We bought them out of booze and cigarettes. They didn’t have any cigars.
Then it was snacks and drinks. I was going to say something about watching their intake of EtOh, but, fuck that. They’re adults. Supposedly. They know their limits. I hoped.
The flight puttered along very smoothly. Too high up to see any scenery, plus it was quite foggy with a low lying scud of gray clouds below us. The in-flight movies were execrable and the in-flight magazine indecipherable.
“Yes, I’d love another cocktail. A double, if you would, Thanks. What? Oh, whatever that last one was…”
And so the flight progressed.
A short while later, the annunciator dinged
and let us know that we were beginning our descent to that place north of the 38th parallel.
“Gentlemen”, I said, “We are finally arriving at our primary destination. Please, remember decorum. We are international scientific ambassadors, so let’s keep the bilabial fricatives to a minimum.”
I was greeted by a volley of fake-farts, Bronx cheers, and staccato belches that would put any university’s zoo fraternity to shame. Geologists are a weird bunch.
“Yeah. My team. Yeah. Karma hates me…” I sighed and sat back down in my seat for landing.
We touch down as light as lotus blossom on silent golden pond.
We taxied and taxied until our taxi-er was sore, but we finally arrived at the proper gate; one of the two that existed. It’s not that the airport was that big or busy, it was just things tend to move a bit slower here.
Then it sort of hits. We’re finally at Pyongyang International Airport. We are a group of hand-picked global geoscientists on a mission to try and help out a self-insulated, insular, xenophobic, totalitarian, dictatorial, repressive regime crawl out of the intellectual and technological cesspool they’ve created for themselves by providing the insights into the latest exploration, operations, and production petroleum geology to help bolster their own economy, raise the standard of living for all its citizens, and perhaps start them down the path to a slightly more robust energy self-sufficiency where they won’t have to worry over sanctions, global prohibitions of trade, or the vicissitudes and illegalities of black market oil and bring the quality of their geological and associated sciences out of the late 19th century and gloriously into the 21st!
Me? Fuck it. I’m an unrepentant mercenary. I’m in it for the money.
We taxi over to Terminal 2, the arrivals terminal for all international flights. I note, rather bemusedly, that the airport boasts only one runway. I’ve landed at grass-swamp airports on the taiga in Eastern Siberia that have three or four runways, and those are carved out annually.
I’m not terribly impressed.
We arrive at the jetway and wait for the plane to spool down. There are all sorts of bowing and handshaking with our flight crew, as they were marvelous. Unobtrusive, available, and not terribly chatty. Plus, they poured the drinks like they themselves didn’t own it. Hearty cash tips disappeared into pants and tunic pockets.
We gather up our gear and wait for the door to open. It does, after a few minutes, and we bravely sally forth, a scientific cadre ostensibly on a mercy mission.
One to bolster the economy of this particular country and the bank accounts of 12 international geoscientists.
Off the plane, down the jetway. Once we reach the arrivals terminal, we see this huge sign in Korean, English, Russian and Chinese:
“Travel alert March 2020: North Korean authorities have restricted travel to and from China. If entering North Korea from China or Russia, you will be quarantined for one month.”
“Well.”, I thought out loud, “Now there’s an auspicious beginning…they might have said something back in Beijing…”
I wait for the others to read the good news and expect the grumbles, groans, and gritting teeth of a trip thus ambushed.
What I hear, instead, is:
“Whoo-hoo! Triple pay! Force majeure, baby! Tax-free paid holiday! Rock, you’re a genius. Thanks for sending your contract over…”. Dax exults.
The rest of the crowd also received excerpts from my standard piracy form, errr, contract.
They didn’t get it from me, so I’m making a note to Rack and Ruin. They had to be the leak in the reactor that spawned this seepage. Seems everyone had added that codicil to their personal service contracts; almost as if someone knew about this beforehand…
Suddenly the demeanor of the crowd became much lighter.
We all assemble in the arrivals area and see a couple of nationals holding IUPGS signs.
We stood our ground. They stood theirs.
We were the only
ones on the plane. We are the people they’re looking for. We’re the only people, other than cleaners, custodians, and clandestine constabularies, in this part of the airport.
“Aww, fuck”, I growl. I’m the head of this special education group. I suppose I’ll go over and break the ice, so to speak.
“Dax?” I say, “I’m going in. You stay here with the rest of the group. Keep them out of the pub; for now.”
“Gotcha, Rock”, Dax replies, as the rest of the group look for someplace to sit and wait until something happens.
I wander over to one of the placard holders and extract one of my business cards. It’s in English on one side and Russian on the other. I hope this character speaks one or the other.
“Good day”, I say, proffering my business card, which he takes. “I am Dr. Rocknocker, and this is the team from the IUPGS. We’ve just arrived and are looking forward to working in your fine country.”
“I am Tongbang Yong-Sun”, the placard carrier said, “You will follow me.”
“Well.”, I thought, “So much for introductions.”
“Dax? Guys? Follow me.” I said to the team.
They all got up, grabbed their gear, and sauntered over to where Toebang or whatever the hell his name was, and I were standing.
“Hello. Welcome to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. You are guests of the illustrious Kim Jong-un. We welcome you as guests but remind you, you are guests here and are expected to comport yourself as guests.”
Ivan gives Grako an elbow to the ribs: “Hey. Did he say we were guests?”
Grako cracks up, “Several times.”
“Oh, yeah. This is going to be some fun…” I muse.
“As spokesman and leader of the team, we say thank you for this opportunity as it is a unique experience. But, I must remind you, we are not a tour group. We are a specially selected global group of industrial scientists who have volunteered our time and education to come to offer our expertise to the benefit of your country. So, we’d appreciate it if you would comport yourself and your team as such as well.” I said.
Toebang looked as if he just struck a thick vein of lemon-juice.
“Your attitude has been noted, Doctor,” Toebang said.
“Good. I’d hate to think you weren’t listening.” I replied in kind. “I despise repeating myself.”
Don’t try your little man ‘I’m a big shit’ here, buckwheat. I’ve gone toe-to-toe with the best of them around the world and my record stands undefeated; I mused.
With that, we sauntered down the long hallway to passport control and customs.
If arrivals were anything to crow about, this is going to be the longest entrance into a country in years.
Down the hall, we’re all lead to a non-descript room off the main throughway. There are easily a dozen chairs there and we are asked to have a seat. The passport agent will be here soon.
I gather up all the passports and figure this must be the North Korean version of VIP passport handling that we experienced in Beijing.
One agent arrives and takes his fucking sweet time setting up his tea, stamp pad, rubber stamps, and other articles of officious-dom.
He motions to me and I walk over, depositing a dozen passports gently in front of him.
He looks at me, looks at the pile of passports, at me again and I swear, I see steam issuing from his ears.
“Is there a problem? “ I ask.
“Why you have so many passports?” he asks.
“One from each of my team plus mine equals 12 passports,” I replied.
“ONE AT A TIME!” he screams.
The room fell silent. Bets were probably being laid as to how I’d react.
“Sorry?” I said, “I didn’t catch that.”
The customs guy was starting to go red.
“See”, I continued, “I am deaf to disrespect, much less screaming by some minor functionary. Care to try again?”
“Each brings up own passport.”, he says, seething but slightly less self-important.
“Most certainly”, I reply in saccharine dripping tones, “Here’s mine.” And I offer him my blood-red passport.
He goes to grab it, but seeing Toebang behind me, he cools out and accepts it gracelessly.
He opens it, looks at it, looks at me, looks at it, at me, at it, at me.
“Christ.” I think, “Korean ping pong.”
“You are American?” he asks.
“Yes, by birth” I reply.
“Why Russian passport?” he asks.
“Long story. But please check. It is all legal and above board.” I reply nicely.
He gives me the hairy eyeball, scrunches up his face like he’s just been the recipient of a high-velocity dog-yummy to the scrotum, and viciously stamps my passport. Gleefully over stamping such visas and stamps like the ones from Bali, Seychelles, Bermuda, and Turks and Caicos. Places he might have heard of but would never in a million years visit.
He hands me back my passport and I thought that was it.
Nope. Now it’s time for backpack inspection.
“Now, the fun begins”, I mused.
They literally dump my daypack out on the stainless steel inspection counter. I ask them to take it easy, as I have some seriously delicate scientific equipment there and wouldn’t want it fuckered before we got the chance to use it in your fine country.
Toebang and Shitheels, the passport pecker, looked at me and just ‘Harrumph’-ed.
“What is this?”
“Oh, goody. Show and tell. Gather ‘round gents, after I’m done, you’re all next.” I said to the team.
“That is my field notebook computer. An ancient and trusty device I use in the field for mapping, taking field notes, and making calculations.”
“Open it and turn it on.”
“Certainly.” I did and made sure it booted up under XP and not Win 7.
“You need this?” Shitheels asked.
“Yes. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have dragged it halfway around the world.” I replied truthfully if not a bit snarkily.
“OK.” He grabs my satellite phone. “What is this?”
“Field communication device”, I said truthfully. “For communications via line of sight with others in the field during field excursions.” Which was more or less accurate.
“You need this?” Shitheels asked.
“Yes, just as before,” I replied.
We played this little game with my gravimeter, Brunton Compass
, Mohs Hardness Testing Kit
, UV lamp set (long and short wave…for mineral identification), map case, clipboard, myriad pens, and colored pencils, and GPS, which was built into a range finder; which I demonstrate the range finding capabilities, but not the GPS capabilities.
He grabbed my cameras and was fumbling around with the two Canon EOS-1D X Mark III bodies I was carrying and the four lenses, primarily close-up macro-photography when I asked him to please be careful.
“They’re new for the trip. I’d hate for them to be damaged before we can find some oil and gas for you all.” I said.
As all lenses were less than 250mm, he just grunted and shoved them back to me.
He didn’t know about the 900
lens I was carrying or the shitload of memory cards still zipped into the lining of my day pack.
“Is everything OK?” I ask?
“Yes. No. Wait. What’s this?” he asks as he grabs my hand lens off the stainless steel table.
“Ah. That, my good sir, is my Scanning Electron Hand Lens.” I said with overweening pride.
“What is it? What is it for? Why?” he fumbled with the three objectives.
“Oh, please, careful with that. It’s a high energy tool!” I said in mock alarm.
He almost dropped it like a live grenade.
The term ‘high energy’ cut through the discourse like a 5 megawatt laser firing for the first time.
I grabbed the hand lens and showed him how it worked on the back of my hand.
“Lens 1. 5x magnification. Lens 2. 10x magnification. Lens 3. 20x magnification. Push this button and you get UV shortwave radiation for mineral identification. Push this button and you get longwave UV radiation for mineral identification. Push both once and you get a low power red laser, push both twice and get a high-power green laser for scanning specimens. That’s for EDAX: Energy Dispersive Analysis of X-rays. Very high tech. I hope to make a gift of it to the university if and when we ever get through passport control.”
It was all a load of cobblers, and my team was snickering, but not too loud. Yes, it was a hand lens with three Coddington precision ground lenses, and a red- and green low power UV sources for illumination and checking fluorescent minerals. But all that LASER crapola?
It worked though. He cleared all my gear, confiscating the titty magazine I bought in London so they’d have something to show at the end of the day, shook hands, and motioned to Dax.
The rest of the team went through quite quickly. He already saw what a Brunton Compass was, what was a map case, gravimeter, hand lens, and other forms of geological esoterica.
We were all stamped, carded and assigned our ‘handlers’ for the remainder of our stay.
Since we were most emphatically not
a tour group, they assigned four locals to be our “aides”; not handlers.
Sure, they were employed by the Korean International Travel Company, but they were not tour agents nor any other kind of agent. They wanted us to be assured of that fact.
They were, however, all young and named Yuk Seong-Ho, No Young-Gi, Man Suk-Chul, and Kong Chong-Yol.
‘Yuk’. ‘No’. ‘Man’. And ‘Kong’.
Well, like we were much better.
‘Dax’. ‘Rock’. ‘Grako.’ ‘Viv’. And ‘Earl’.
What a bunch.
We were lead out of the passport office after we passed muster there and down to baggage claim. All our baggage was waiting for us, including an Air China bag of rock hammers, acid bottles, and other implements of geological destruction.
We were told to tell which were our personal bags. We pointed them out and they were marked with wide black Sharpies®
and Post-it™ notes.
One after another was called over to a series of stainless steel tables and asked if this was our baggage if we packed it and if we were carrying any contraband.
The last question struck me as disingenuous.
One at a time, one after another, we have vetted through customs once again, check out our clothes, personal items, and secret stashes of booze and cigars.
They were a rather affable group, these customs folks, and actually quite pleasant.
Kong pulled me over to one corner and told me “They are being nice, looking for gifts or bribes. Cigarettes are much appreciated.”
I was called last and elected to take out the Air China bag as well. I plopped my three Halliburton aluminum traveling cases on the table, whirled the locks, and popped them open for inspection.
They immediately noticed my emergency stash of vodka and bourbon.
“For medicinal purposes”, I chuckled, and absent-mindedly set 5 or 6 airline miniatures of booze on the table. They disappeared with an audible whoosh.
They looked at my boxes of cigars with covetous eyes.
“I suppose I better part with a few rather than piss them off and have them confiscate the lot. “ I thought. I offered them one Camacho each. I explained they were very, very strong and that one should last them a very long time indeed.
“It’s a gift, from us to you.” I said, “We do hope you will enjoy.”
SWOOSH. They disappeared just as quickly as the booze minis.
Then they saw the Sobranje cocktail cigarettes.
My plan was coming together.
I quickly open a carton and offered each a full pack of 20 of the festively-colored little coffin-nails.
They accepted them just as quickly, and now we were all friends. Hell, at this point, I could have smuggled through a fully armed ICBM, these guys were so blissed out at their good fortune.
They did a half-ass paw through my gear and told me to close each. Then they got to the last one and opened my real medicine bag. Here I kept the expensive silver-iodide ointment I was using in conjunction with the tantalum implants. Also, there were travel necessities, like antibiotics, pain medication, muscle relaxants, and some prescription sleep-inducing medications like Halcion and Ambien.
I flashed quickly to Dubai customs where they gave me a ration of shit about the sleep meds, and instantly tried to steer the discussion towards something less likely to be seen as smuggling or illegal.
“Oh? That?” I asked, grabbing the vail of silver-iodide ointment. “That’s for my hand. You see, I’m trying out some new implants before I get a new custom prosthesis…”
I may as well have been discussing Hyper-spatial Calculus with an Atlantic-trench blowfish at that point.
“What? What do you mean? Why do you need this?” the customs agent asked.
“Remember. You asked.”, I said and stripped off my left glove.
I held up my mangled left paw for them all to see.
The female customs agent just plain ran out screaming.
“Yeah, I have that effect on some women”, I mused.
Of the remaining two male agents, one was trying hard not to yarp and the other was calling for a policeman.
Suddenly, I’m flanked by two of North Korea’s finest boys in blue. It’s obvious they don’t speak English and I don’t speak any Korean.
“KONG! I need you”, I said, somewhat loudly.
The cops were talking a blue streak between them, evidently thinking that I should be handcuffed, but neither wanted to even look at my mangled mitt much less wrangle it.
“Kong, please tell these fine policemen that there’s no problem. I am sorry but I seem to have shocked the fine customs agents when they wanted to know why I need this jar of prescription salve. I just showed the…” as I waved my left hand right under their noses.
“Put it away! Put it away!” Kong shuddered. There was much discussion in Korean and I heard my name and IUPGS come up once or twice.
I put my glove back on and suddenly, all was right with the world once again.
“I’m going to have to remember that little trick. Walk into a bank, rip off the glove, and start filling my rucksack..” I laughed internally.
There were apologies, contrition, and deep bowing all around.
We came to an understanding. I wouldn’t be trotted off to the hoosegow if I vowed never to take that glove off again.
“Deal”, I said and thrust out my right hand for a good, solid, manly handshake.
It was like shaking hands with a pantyhose full of yogurt.
At that point, they just wanted us out of there.
"Screw the Air China bag. Take it and go to your hotel."
So we did. Laughing all the way. To be continued…in a while…