Monday, August 25, 2008

Hop on the bus, Gus

A couple of friends of mine have recently taken up wushu classes - a Chinese martial art in the kung fu / t'ai chi mould, which involves exercises with weapons like swords, staffs, and spears.

The sword is the most commonly used implement; and the typical practice sword is only slightly more substantial than tinfoil - it has no edge on it, and is extremely floppy. You might be able to give someone something like a towel-slap with one, but nothing more serious.

However, although such swords are a very familiar item in China and are well-known to be utterly harmless, both of my friends have been stopped from taking them to their classes by subway in the last couple of weeks.

They were both advised by the subway "security officers" at the baggage-scan checkpoint to take them on the bus instead. One helpful chap even advised on the route numbers to take.

Another striking example of the ludicrous loopholes in the "security" arrangements here in Beijing in recent weeks. There is no security on the buses at all. There is no security in most of Beijing at all. If psychopaths or terrorists want to start chopping people up with machetes or katanas...... they are advised to take the bus.

Not that there's really much "security" on the subway. I have seen one of the baggage scan operatives completely asleep at their post. I think most of us have by now. A friend reported meeting one of these guys off duty in a restaurant recently, and having him readily confess during a brief conversation that they pay absolutely no attention to what passes before them on the screens at all - because it is so boring, and because they know there aren't any terrorists in Beijing anyway.

Someone else was telling me recently that she'd baked a cake for a friend's birthday and, not being sure how well equipped this friend's kitchen was, had decided to take along a big knife to the birthday party for cake cutting. When she descended into the subway, she suddenly remembered that this might be a problem...... so she hastily slipped the knife into the box containing the cake and said to the "security" people, "Oh, it's just a cake. I don't need to put this through the scanner, do I?" "No, of course not. On you go." Another helpful tip for any would-be terrorists or psychos out there. You thought hiding metal implements inside a cake was just a stereotypical joke in sitcoms and cartoons? Oh no; in Beijing it works like a dream in real life.

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