Brian's Blogs

A Very Warm Welcome to China!

I love flying in to Beijing Airport. Apart from the fact that the terminal is spotless (well, Terminal 3 is at any rate!) to the point where you could almost eat your lunch in the public conveniences, you are always made to feel welcome as well. Large welcome banners hang in the entrance hall as the immigration officers calmly and politely do their job.

I often think being an immigration officer must be one of the worst jobs going: all those frightful travelers whooping it up as they set off for their vacation leaving these poor souls to face another day of passport plonking.

At least, I suspect that could be one of the reasons that almost without exception, the miserable plonkers at Dubai Airport – from where I have recently returned - are hard pressed ever to raise a smile, or even to look at you, let alone to say hello, goodbye or thank you. It's the same at Doha Airport in Qatar. Hand out; grab passport; throw a passing glance to make sure that the outstretched hand actually belongs to the picture in the passport and after a predetermined wait the passport is all but thrown back at you.

Try saying hello to them; or murhabba; even as-salaam-aleikum. It's the same. Blank look; stifled yawn; plonk, plonk, plonk; throw back passport.

Does it really have to be like this? I mean, fly out of Abu Dhabi and the chances are you will be asked how you are, offered a peppermint or fruit drop and wished a pleasant journey. Return to Abu Dhabi and you're asked if you had a good trip. Oh, and welcome back to Abu Dhabi, of course.

It's the same in Riyadh. Welcome to Saudi Arabia, says a beaming immigration official. No doubt you are glad to be here, eh? Al hamdullilah. Very glad, say I; and with a wave and a smile I am on my way.

On a recent trip to Sri Lanka, I was welcomed warmly by an immigration lady. I was asked where I planned to visit in their beautiful country and immediately was given suggestions as to what I really shouldn't miss, while fellow travelers patiently waited their turn in the queue. Finally I was thrown a lovely smile as my passport was handed back with grace and charm. What a great way to start a holiday!

Even in Indonesia – not famous for the level of English spoken by its officials – yet again Asian charm wins through and despite having a $10 note released from the confines of my wallet, I felt as though I were a valued customer – a visitor actually made to feel welcome in the streets of Java.

Fly to the UK and though you might not see the tears welling up in their eyes as you are wished a pleasant onward trip, you get a firm unequivocal good morning, and what passes for a smile – which, at 5.30 in the morning is not bad going.

Amsterdam's Schiphol is in a league of its own around five in the morning. Presumably the bosses aren't yet out of bed, for how else can you explain the good natured remarks thrown at any reasonably good looking chick in the queue in what passes for a valiant attempt at a chat-up line in her own language.

Cómo está? Apa kabar? Ogenki desu ka? The girls blush as each of the officials tries his chances at hitting on the poor wench while the hormones fly around unchecked. (And there was I thinking this behavior was more appropriate for the Italians and Spanish!)

Of course, you simply cannot beat the US for rudeness and general unhelpfulness at the immigration counter. It doesn't seem to matter at which entry point you arrive, as far as they are concerned you are a terrorist, a nobody, someone looking in from outside desperate to partake of the American dream. (Hey, they even ask you in all seriousness on the immigration form if you have any intentions of committing terrorist acts while you are on US soil!)

But for me, the finishing touch at all the Chinese airports I have landed in is a push-panel of smileys so that you can record how good or bad the immigration officer was in handling your arrival or departure. And each time it has been a pleasure to press “Very satisfied”.

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