No-kill policy good news for visitors
I've never been afraid of the local police. To me, they are just men wearing clothes slightly different to mine. And unlike millions of poor oppressed people on the mainland, I've never been afraid of mainland police either. Just as with insane mainland drivers, I work under this principle: They never kill foreigners.
Sure, I've had my fair share of run-ins with the law on the mainland. In 1997 I was working for Norway's TV 2 channel and we set up a camera on a Shanghai pavement to interview people about the Hong Kong handover. The two questions we asked them were: 1. What do you think of the handover? And 2. What do you think of Hong Kong?
I had warned the producer that a huge television camera would be like a red rag for mainland authorities and that we'd be better off with a more discreet gadget, but he brushed it off.
We had time to interview about two and a half people before the police swooped. We were hauled into the nearest police station and interrogated, before being made to write grovelling self-criticisms.
I was once arrested in a market for having photographed some chillies. Then, when I was about to leave town, I was made to destroy two photos I had taken in the station of a Hui woman with her child.
Another time, I was arrested on a train for having hairspray in my luggage. After all, it was just a month before the Beijing Olympics and I could have done anything with it. Two hours and six pages of fingerprints later I was free to stay on the train.
No, mainland police don't faze me. Nevertheless, when I recently crossed the border with my friends A and J, I felt a frisson of - what? Fear? No, but I felt something when J was pulled aside by customs officers after their tail-wagging beagle showed a distinct interest in his luggage. In fact, the hound acted as if it had never smelled anything more riveting. Did J have a heroin habit I wasn't aware of? I sidled closer.
Customs officer (menacingly): 'Do you have any - fruit?'
J: 'Er ... yes. Three bananas.'
Customs officer: 'Aha!'
J removed the offending objects from his luggage and was issued with a document claiming another victory for the mainland's customs authorities: the bananas would be mercilessly destroyed.
Whew! A close call. But then again, I never had any doubt that we would be OK. After all, they never kill foreigners.