Daily Archives: May 17, 2009

On Travel: Innocents Abroad

I saw an incoming link on this blog from Lauren Cooney’s blog, so I went to investigate the reason. Lauren used to work at IBM and now works at Microsoft. I got her name from a mutual friend at IBM Research. Both on are on my Facebook friends list, and Lauren has made many interesting comments there.

The link came from a comment that someone had made on our of her posts. Written just over a year ago, the post relates her encounter with some policemen while in China on behalf of IBM. See My Adventures at the Chinese Police Station…

I noticed that the link came from a comment I had recently made, so as long as I was there I added a couple of new comments.

This, by the way, is perhaps the best way to thank someone for writing an interesting post. You should return the favour by posting a comment. Very few people do so. [1]

I always include a link back to my blog when I enter a comment, to the curious reader can click to reach my blog.

Here is my latest comments, followed by the ones I had made earlier. All are about what can happen when an innocent travels abroad.

I found this an Interesting post.

By way of background, see my post https://daveshields.wordpress.com/2006/11/01/thomas-l-friedman-the-taxi-driver/
from which you will learn that I was once a New York taxi driver. (I just founded a LinkedIN group for my fellow hackers), so I’m a hacker twice over: as a programmer and as a taxicab driver.

You make the excellent point that one needs to understand the local laws, and especially the culture, when visiting a foreign country. For example, back in the 70’s when I first visited Russia, you could be arrested for taking a picture of a railroad station, bridge, or airport. (I expect the Russki’s expected to German army to invade any day.)

I had a surprising, though not hostile, encounter with a border guard.
My wife and arrived in Moscow late one Saturday night, and left ten or so days later from the same airport, early in the morning.

The *same* man was there both times to check our passport!

At first I thought the Russki’s had sent him there just to make sure we had not had plastic surgery or somesuch, but that didn’t seem realistic. Then he noticed his name on his visa, and seemed as surprised as I at the coincidence, and then said, “Hmmm, I checked you in too.”

Martin Davis, the famed mathematician and logician, once had an encounter with a US Customs agent. While in Moscow he had bought a “matroshki” (?), the nested wooden dolls often found in tourist traps. The agent opened one, then the other, and then the other, each time with more excitement, expecting to find some drugs inside.

Martin, or it may have been someone else, had a similar encounter, though I think this one happened in Israel. Let’s call him Mr. Ignoto.

Mr. Ignoto went on a trip, not knowing that at the last minute his wife had slipped a small plastic bag full of detergent into one of his shoes.

When a customs agent later noticed the white power and asked Mr. Ignoto to explain the powder, Ignoto said he had never seen it before, and that someone must have put it in his show.

Since this is the usual excuse of a criminal, Ignoto was promptly taken aside, and it took several hours before the agents figure out it was just soap.

I was in St. Pete in June 2004 on IBM’s business. As I left the elevator the first morning I said to myself, “Dave, today you ARE SWG in St. Pete, and you have the city to yourself.” Then I saw a sign welcoming visitors to a Microsoft conference, and realized that Steve Mills and the rest of us in SWG had a tough row to hoe.

I’ve been to Russia four times, the last two (2004 in St. Pete on IBM’s dime).The first was in October 1973 just after the end of the Yom Kippur War. (My wife’s parents were both born in Russia, and I had two years of Russian in HS, as well as a semester at Caltech, and a brush-up course at Berlitz before our departure.

We entered and left at Shermeytevo Airport in Moscow. We left late on a Saturday night, and I noticed the same man was in the passport booth! I thought they had scheduled his tour just so he could check me out, but he was as surprised as I was.)

The sense of relief on the plane as the wheels lifted was palpable. We all cheered.

Das Vidanya,

Spasibo (thanks) ,dave


1. There is another lesson to be learned here. You can recycle one or more comments you have made about someone else’s post into a new post of your own.

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