Monday, August 22, 2011

556. Travel Stories: A Tourist Under Suspicion - Part 1

Incredible Travel Stories:
A Tourist Under Suspicion - Part 1

Dr Sing Kong Yuen, BVMS (Glasgow), MRCVS
August 20, 2011, Room 1231, 5 am
The Royal Garden, Hong Kong

"I offer you a way out. You go to Macau direct from the Airport and spend your time in Macau," the female Immigration Officer (FMO) said to me after an interview and logging onto her office computer to check out my background at www.toapayohvets.com. If I did not accept her offer, I would be sent back to Singapore on the next plane. If I accepted her offer, my passport would show a stamp "transit" in Hong Kong. In this way, there would be no record of me having been denied an entry to enter Hong Kong.

On August 19, 2011, I had arrived in Hong Kong at 5.45 a.m, from Singapore, flying Cathay Pacific. The Immigration Counter Officer took longer than usual to check me out on his computer. Then he wrote on a white slip of paper with the heading "Restricted." A young thin Immigration man who was directing passengers to the various Immigration Counter then detained me.

I went with him into a room as he waited for the Immigration Counter Officer to return back to him. I noted a change of shift work as another new Immigration Counter Officer, together with others, entered the booths with their silver boxes and chops. So, the original officer who stopped me from leaving the Immigration Area had gone home.

The young Officer consulted another officer. Then he led me to a big room which had white walls, working desks, computers, around 8 rows of blue chairs and closed circuit TV. A lady officer had unlocked this room, switched on the lights and asked me to wait. After some half an hour, the FMO whom I mentioned in my first paragraph interviewed me and made the offer I should not refuse.

She was a young serious woman in her 30s. "It is a random check on passengers," she had said earlier as she asked and scribbled on a piece of table, information about me, my family, my brother and sisters, my purpose in coming to Hong Kong, the amount of money I had, my credit card. I said I had no friend in Hong Kong as I was not much of a net worker and that probably was against me. Then she offered me the above-mentioned proposal not to enter Hong Kong for national security reasons.
"Why am I not allowed to enter Hong Kong?" I asked. This was the first time I had been rejected from entering a country.

"It is for Immigration reasons I am not permitted to tell you," she said.
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"Did somebody commit a cheating scam in my name?" I asked. I deduced that I was not a criminal since she did not throw me into the cells. In any case, my life is that of an ordinary Singaporean.
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"No," she said. "I am not permitted to tell you. If you go to Macau straight from the Airport, your passport will be stamped "transit" and there will be no record of you being denied entry to Hong Kong and sent back to Singapore (by the next available plane).

"If I accept your officer, it means that I have had done something wrong. Your immigration records will tell that I have had been denied entry into Hong Kong."

"No," she said. "It will show that you have transited via Hong Kong Airport to go to Macau."

"I don't know how the Immigration works," I said. "How can I trust the Immigration system? Surely, it will record that I was denied entry to Hong Kong and that I then agree to go to Macau, avoiding the prospect of being sent back to Singapore on the next plane." This would be the way all bureaucrats would work. I was a bureaucrat once.

I continued in a cordial tone: "How can I trust that the Hong Kong Immigration would just forget about the fact that I was detained and interrogated for around an hour and just record that I transited via Hong Kong to visit Macau? My travel plans were to visit Hong Kong 2 nights and Macau 1 night. Now, you advise me to visit Macau for the whole duration."

The FMO was silent. She was always polite. It was a very strange first encounter in my 60 years of living. I seldom tour countries as I built up a practice on my own and raised a family and paid mortgage. It was 18 years ago since I last visited Hong Kong and here, I was a suspect, in my opinion. A dangerous man. Well, we have "dangerous dogs" under the Singapore's veterinary regulations. So why not "dangerous tourist" under the Immigration regulations.

It is the prerogative of any government not to permit foreigners to enter the country. But there is more than meets the eye. So, I said: "This is Hong Kong, not a undeveloped country where government officials can do what they like.

The FMO offered the same proposal again as she apologised that she could not reveal the reason I was rejected.

I said as if discussing a dog's clinical case to the dog owner: "Your poster on your wall has stated a value - Integrity and Impartiality. Yet I am asked to leave Hong Kong without being given a reason (as to why I was discriminated)."

The FMO repeated patiently as a teacher would do to a dullard: "It is in the national interest of Hong Kong. I am not permitted to tell you more than that."

I said: "If I accept your offer, the Singapore Government will be after me when I return to Singapore. I will be investigated as to why I accepted your offer not to land in Hong Kong. The Singapore Government officer would ask me: "If you had not committed any offence, why did you accept the Hong Kong offer? And I will have no answers."

"Wait," she went to consult another officer in an office to the left of the main door entrance. An older slim woman in blue uniform. Some 60 minutes had already passed. Julia phoned me at the bag collection counter as she had no problem entering Hong Kong: "Where are you?"

I said tersely, "The Immigration Officer stopped me and is interviewing me." I did not want to talk too much. "For security reasons, a video recording is in progress" notice has been tacked to the notice board in this office. A few strategically place big blue glassed "eyes" were spying on anyone in the room. I presume there would be somebody in the CCTV(closed-circuit television) room monitoring my action and speech.

Was I a suspected terrorist? That was what my first thought was. I was not permitted to enter Hong Kong as that would be against the national interest. A drug dealer? A Triad or Mafia boss with a veterinary practice in Singapore as a front? A big-time money launderer flying Cathay Pacific economy class to throw off the scent of the government hounds?

After some time, a male Immigration Officer (MIO) wearing a white shirt with epaulettes showing two stars and in blue trousers arrived and cordially invited me to an interview in the same room and asked me more questions as well as the previous ones as he wrote the answers on a piece of paper: "Where do you wish to visit when you come to Hong Kong?" he asked.

"Times Square," I said, off the cuff, truthfully.

"Times Square," he asked incredulously. I wondered why.

"Well, I would like to visit Times Square which I went in 1988," I just could not figure out why Times Square was not on his list of tourist attraction to Singaporeans. "To see the changes after 18 years. I would also be going shopping."


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