Hong Kong Police Misunderstanding …
On my way to Bangkok Thailand, my travel companion and I had to change planes in Hong Kong. No big deal, you would think. But sometimes one gets pulled aside for a tad more inspection. And it was my turn.
They led me to a room with a raised box in the middle, maybe a foot higher than the floor, which was this puke shade of green linoleum. My bags went to a table along the side and men in uniform were riffling through the contents. I was standing on the box. Others, with the aforementioned machine guns, were along the walls looking vaguely bored. And a very pretty Chinese girl was before me, asking questions in stilted English.
One of those questions had to do with my camera, an old Instamatic 110. Remember those things? Looked like a sideways deck of cards, only more elongated and not as wide? Well, she handed it to me and told me to prove it was a camera. So naturally I think that (a) she’s really very pretty, and (b) why not take a picture to show her how it works?
As I raised the camera to my eye and pointed it towards her, she barked something in Chinese that un-bored the machine gun guys. They naturally raised their gun barrels along with their eyes, and the pretty girl stopped being so pretty. It took a lifetime for my brain to understand, but then I realized that her question was because she thought I was carrying a concealed weapon, and I was now pointing it at a uniformed officer! (Why she handed it to me, I’ll never know). So thinking quickly, I dropped the lens towards the ground and clicked the shutter.
And thus I captured a wonderful picture of some green linoleum, replete with beads of my own fear sweat. 🙂
A Little More Detail …
Sometimes travelers find themselves in very unusual situations, and often have no idea how to react. Most of these events are pretty innocuous, some however are quite frightening, like the tale above. (Which, by the way, is 100% true, as far as I remember. LOL!)
There are two videos on our YouTube Channel about this, one titled the same as this post and the other “Our Friend Was STOLEN, Right In Front Of Us”. (Links soon). And for that latter story …
The Tourism Police in Morocco …
This time, it was 33 years later. This year, to be exact. And the place was Fes, Morocco. And we were again faced with an unknown police presence, and had no clue what was happening.
We made friends with a young lad named Asseade when we traveled there in 2017. He became an instant friend. So when we went back in 2019, he decided that he wanted to show us around the next day, because the city had changed a lot in the past two years. Plus he really wanted to be with us. Sadly, that was when we had our only real negative experience of the trip.
We were sitting in the car … Nikki, Asseade, our driver, and me. Just waiting for traffic to move, chatting and looking around. Mr. Charisma (as we named him) is sitting in the front passenger seat when two men suddenly jerked open his door, grabbed him, and dragged him out of the vehicle. Which seriously stunned Nikki and I (insert understatement here). They quickly closed the door and took him away, and when we looked to the driver for help, there was none to be had. For sadly, he didn’t speak much English and seemed just as confused as we. Turns out they were the “Tourism Police”. After a bit, one of them opened the door again and said in stilted English … “He is false” and shut the door and left. Nikki is now between rage and concern, yelling that he is a friend, not some random (and false) guide. That we had actually come to Morocco to see him. Didn’t matter. Our driver mumbled “I take you to riad” and that was that. Asseade was in custody and we couldn’t do anything about it.
Once back at the riad, Nikki alerted Batoula (our host and Asseade’s Aunt) and she went on the war path. Short story is, he was back rather quickly and I’m sure the police were still stinging from the experience. I wouldn’t want to mess with Batoula when it came to family, as I’m sure they got an earful. But for us, it was a seriously unpleasant experience, on many levels.
Proud? Not …
So, in looking back, “What should we have done?” becomes the question. What is the proper response when in a foreign country and police officers do something that is incorrect, but you have limited ability to tell them? At the time, I was just simply stunned. Too stunned to move or think. In hindsight, I’m actually pretty upset with my response. Because honestly, I went into “fear and conformity” mode.
You know that reaction when you see on TV a brutal regime hurt their own citizens, and you make that casual comment back to the screen that the victims should have fought back. How you would have never let them do that to you? Well, I have made that statement. And when it came time for me to be tested, I failed. I just sat there, and a little part of me hoped it wouldn’t be me next. And just admitting that gives me shame like you cannot imagine. But it also gave me a lesson.
My takeaway was that there is a middle ground. Between being a sheep and a lion. Asking questions and stating facts (respectfully) would not have been an inappropriate response. Sitting was. I honestly should have either exited the car, or rolled the window down. Asked to speak with the lead officer and explain our relationship with Asseade. Let them know that appearances were not as they assumed. A lot of that day, and the fear that Asseade had to endure, could have been averted had I done that simple thing.
The Big Finale …
OK, Dear Readers, two scary stories I cannot leave you with. Because that is NOT the point of this post. What is … is that even in the worst of situations, the kind that go pear shaped almost instantly and leave you stunned, you can survive with newfound knowledge that will be of use in your future life. These experiences will test you, teach you, and challenge you to become more than you can imagine. The scary parts will fade and you will tell the tales with a laugh, but inside you will remember, and those memories will feel more like a cherished teacher guiding you along your path.
Do not be afraid, our fate cannot be taken from us, it is a gift.
~ Dante Alighieri