Why Airports Are Not Your Happy Place If You’re Asian : TVOne’s Border Security

Border control in the United States (U.S. Cust...

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[ NOte from NOel : Apologies, the subject matter this time refers to Aus/NZ TV content only. Maraming salamat po Kuya Pat, Ate Belen and all the other members of Barangay Northern Hutt Yahoo!group for accepting us , happy birthday to kabatch Wilson Lu; kudos to Doc Gerry So and Olive Montenegro Ferrer for hosting SB XLV, and to the good people of Egypt, may the Force & the spirit of the First Quarter Storm and EDSA 1/2 be with you!]

Dear kabatch, schoolmates, brods, kabayan, officemates, Huttmates & friends :

BECAUSE so many people do them both as pasttime and professionally, I don’t generally succumb to the temptation of writing TV and film reviews, although as they say, everyone’s a critic. It’s always fun to pan this or that production, especially those splashed in hypermedia (the double episodes, the supersequels and sequels of sequels), even the reviews themselves are reviewed.

So if I’m not a paying customer, and unless there’s so much media buzz I see it coming out of my own ears, the consumer is king, and caveat emptor, or let the buyer (or viewer) beware.

I can’t avoid donating my unsolicited 60 centavos though ( two NZ cents times 30 ) on a particular TV show I watch Monday nights, whenever I’m not on early evening or late night shift, because it provokes so many reactions from me (emotional and otherwise) on different levels. The show is innocuously entitled Border Security and is popular on both sides of the Tasman Strait ( Aus and NZ ), and unconsciously I manage to prioritize it over almost everything else except ESPN SportsCenter, CNN breaking news, an ultra-wacky Man vs Wild episode ( carried by at least three channels; particularly when the preview shows the host chomping on fresh meat just to survive ) or, when I can catch it, a Justice League or Dark Knight back-to-back on Cartoon Network 🙂

And I’ll tell you why. The show is touted as a straightforward day-to-day docu-cum-reality combo on how Australian Immigration and Customs screen the sea of human and cargo traffic, in the thousands of units daily, and the drama and unexpected situations that ensue.

I admire without qualification the composure, politically correct and dispassionate way with which the Aussies handle the situations. Given the hundreds of judgment calls that come their way, whackos and the criminally inclined that can potentially wreak havoc on health and safety in their jurisdictions, the authorities shown in Border Security deserve a medal each time they pull their punches, corner the guilty or go easy on a naive, poorly prepared or ill-informed first-time traveler.

But there are memorable exceptions. I need to make mention before I forget that between half and three-quarters of the “suspects” they interview, potential drug mules, smugglers of prohibited items ( biosecurity hazards, products processed from endangered species, or undeclared food items ) are of Asian or Eurasian ethnicity.

I’m not being touchy, racially sensitive or anything like that. It’s just a fact of life I have learned, not only from watching the show but from personal experience (more on that later). If you so much as stare at any lawman, show a bead of sweat on your forehead, appear a tad too worried and/or waiting for someone else, and are tan, yellow, brown or anything else other than Caucasian, consider yourself fresh meat for a second scan ( margin for error is granted for things missed by human eyes, but not on take 2 ), short-listed for a full baggage search and longer-than-usual interview.

Again, I don’t want to raise your hackles or elicit indignant self-righteousness among the Lahing Kayumanggi. Good for you if you think there’s something fishy going on, but on each episode of Border Security, it’s an unfortunate part of policy to stereotype the potential source of problems. I won’t go so far as to use the term racial profiling, but history and experience require them to go with the odds, and the odds are that if there’s a problem, the source will be an Asian.

Believe you me, everytime I’ve gone home or back to work, whether I pass through Sydney or Melbourne, when my stopover is more than an hour and to loiter on the airport is a necessary evil, I am subjected to a random body search, no matter how I look or how seasoned a traveler I pretend to be.

Everytime I’m in a queue, I’m separated from the rest, inspected ocularly from head to toe while given the patronizing probing questions. Each time they find nothing wrong with me, just your generic garden variety Asian OFW itching to get to work / get home, spend the holidays or get back to the grind. Despite my famous glib tongue ( loose lips sink ships 😉 ), I know better than to make careless comments or terrorist jokes, and within 10 minutes they send me on my way.

That’s not always the case. In Border Security, a constant theme ( in fairness to the producers, they’re just as enthusiastic to show boners on the side of authority ) is the unintended comedy of airport or customs authorities struggling to justify making life difficult for the casual traveler.

In one episode, two red flags stood out for a bearded, long-maned, tattooed Brit. He declared he had a criminal conviction ( probably smoking one too many funny cigarets ) and secondly, traces (but nothing tangible) of cocaine were detected on the soles of his shoes. Immediately he was asked, and agreed to an extensive body search, and later the customs officer agreed that in all probability the controlled substance could have come from anywhere, and in summary there was no legal ground to bar his entry to Australia

No legal ground, of course, except the fact that everyone would lose face by allowing him into the country after subjecting him to all sorts of difficulty. In the end and to their credit, the airport heavies allowed him in, apologized for the inconvenience and wished him well.

[ Two thoughts on that : there was the slight chance that their sense of decency was swayed in the right direction by all the cameras around, and second, can you imagine that happening back home, where you can earn a night in the stockade for sticking your tongue out at Manila’s Finest ? ]

Even more memorable to me was another episode where a Filipino was again, singled out of the queue and his passport scrutinized. Part of the dialog went like this :

Interviewer : What is your occupation sir and how much do you earn ?

Pinoy : I am a businessman and I earn roughly P50,000 a month. ( asks politely ) May I ask why you are asking ?

Interviewer : I ask because I find it hard to believe that you would spend one month’s earnings just to visit this country, which I assume is to see the sights. Which reminds me, can you name any of the sights you plan to see in Sydney?

Pinoy : (visibly surprised at the question) I’m sorry but I can’t. I was hoping my girlfriend would show me around.

Interviewer : Oh, yes. She must also be part of the reason you are here. Would you mind if we called her ?

I’m cutting it short, my recollection of the interview, but you probably get my drift. Sadly for our countryman, after they failed to reach the girlfriend by home, the officer decided not to allow him entry, and sent him home on the next flight back to Manila.

My singular line of questioning here is : Can you imagine the officer asking questions like that if the guy was not a member of the non-white races, and would the officer be asking any questions like those ( bordering on the offensive ) if the interviewee were white?

** ** ** ** **

[ Note that I don’t even touch on whether or not the officer was correct in her decision, discussing that issue is probably moot as it is entirely within their authority to grant or deny entry to visitors. It would maybe just bother you a bit to wonder, as it did me, if the same decision would follow had the visitor come from the UK, Canada or Europe. ]

If you will forgive our attempts at reverse racism, the exchange above was one of the notable exceptions, and it stood out only because the traveler was a kabayan. But this is why I enjoy watching Border Security and similar shows. I am well aware, and appreciate the noblesse oblige of the First World, the post 9/11 culture of paranoia, and the need to keep borders safe.

But the frailties of human error, prejudice and prejudgments will always be there to cloud the reliability of reasoned thinking. And as the program manifests, the true-to-life situations therein bring out both the best and the worst in us.

Thanks for reading !







4 thoughts on “Why Airports Are Not Your Happy Place If You’re Asian : TVOne’s Border Security

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