09 February 2009

Shanghai Pudong

Returning from New Zealand to the UK last month I stopped for a transfer between Air New Zealand and Virgin Atlantic in the relatively new Shanghai Pudong international airport. That's the one that's famous for its frighteningly expensive and hyper-modern maglev train linking the airport with the nearby Pudong city in next to no time. While I didn't have time to examine the super-fast train, I did glide over the polished floors and admire the swooping curves of the wave-like and lofty ceilings. It's an impressive structure, and it exudes confidence.

One aspect of passing through the airport was less than high-tech, however. International transfer passengers were required to have their passports scrutinised twice - once at the regular admissions desk and again in a back room, where presumably strange and mystical methods were used to determine whether or not we were reputable enough to stay on Chinese soil for three and a half hours. The problem was, all of these passports had to be returned by hand to a crowd of a hundred or more passengers who were corralled into a confined space in the massive immigration hall.

Each of the polite young Chinese border officials tasked with returning the passports as they emerged from the back rooms one by one had to call out the names of the passport holders and check they were returning the right passport to the right owner. This was less than straightforward because not only was the mass of transit passengers making a fair bit of noise in conversation, but the Chinese officials were not blessed with loud, stentorian voices - more of a half-apologetic squeak, in fact. And of course many of the names they had to read out were incomprehensible to them, so the names emerged in a garbled fashion. Some helpful Antipodeans assisted by shouting out some of the more challenging pronunciations - the Chinese officials couldn't cope with Maori names, for starters! Luckily everyone took the delay with a dose of wry humour.

After my passport was eventually returned unscathed I exited the scrum and took a couple of sneaky photos of the 'holding pen' - those still held hostage to bureaucracy. Hopefully they all made it out alive!

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