IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Okay, off with my belt and shoes, but don't taser me

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 19, 2014

I will be travelling to the United States soon. Naturally, my thoughts turn to taking in the magnificent sights, buying gifts for friends, and trying to not get tasered by the airport authorities.

Everything I read about security in American airports points to how quickly things escalate, especially for foreign-looking males who do not speak American. One minute you are exchanging pleasantries with nice men and women in uniform, and the next, you are writhing on the floor with your hair on fire due to the high voltage.

The problem is that the more I worry about being tasered, the more nervous and clammy I get. Sweat is not only a dead giveaway of a guilty mind, it is also a good conductor of electricity.

The immigration officer asks me why I am in his country and I feel like asking him if he knows how to read, as it is written on the card I have put in front of him. But I do not say that. I do not look good with my face in the carpet.

Now I am not saying that these men and women prefer to electrocute first and ask questions later. I believe they zap only with sufficient cause. From what I have read, once they spot someone acting suspiciously, everything this person does is therefore suspect, and anything that a suspicious person does could very well be dangerous, and anything dangerous needs to be met with force.

As you can tell, it's a foolproof system. Especially up to the time the suspicious person performs potentially threatening gestures, such as raising the hands to block a taser shot, or making loud foreign noises, such as howling in pain.

Admittedly, much of my knowledge of American policing comes from television shows like the reality show Cops ("Bad boys, bad boys, watchoo gonna do") and the fictional show about the Los Angeles police, Southland. As these are Emmy-winning shows, they are probably quite accurate.

I have travelled in America and Canada, and one thing I have noticed is that their cops are really good at drive-by intimidations. They have mastered the withering stare. I got such an intense one 20 years ago eating in a shopping mall that today, every time I see a Subway, I get cold chills.

Americans value their own personal freedom and safety very highly; this is why their law enforcement officers carry an assortment of guns, starting with small, fun guns for casual weekend use, to the really big ones, for more formal occasions.

The value that the United States places on its own security also gives their National Security Agency (the NSA) great powers, including the power to intercept my texts, e-mail and phone calls, as the leaker Edward Snowden revealed. In short, to keep America's freedoms, they are quite eager to take mine away.

This fact annoyed me for a while. After thinking about it for some time, I am actually not too alarmed by this, for several reasons.

One is that I have always liked America and Americans. If their NSA feels the need to check my calendar or have a quick look-see around in my inbox so they can feel better, you know what? They are welcome.

Actually, I'm rather proud of my schedule and secretly hope the NSA will be impressed by it.

No one in my office seems to care when I casually leave it open on my laptop, so that anyone, anyone at all, can see what an in-demand guy I am. If they looked, they will see why I have very legitimate reasons for not going with them to restaurants where I have to pay my own bill and chip in for the person having a birthday.

Perhaps the NSA, after they've had a browse, could leave helpful comments, like an Amazon review: "Great appointments. 4 stars, would spy again."

When I say I like Americans, I should clarify. I like certain nice, talented ones, such as J.J. Abrams or Anthony Bourdain or the guys from MythBusters, or the crew on The Walking Dead.

I am saddened that my e-mail and Web browsing history will also help people I do not care very much for, such as the guys on Pawn Stars. Can't stand them. But that is the nature of global spying. The NSA is bound to help all Americans, even the bald, fat ones who rip off poor people pawning family heirlooms.

So in a few days, I will be passing through the checkpoints of the U.S. of A., with my shoes off, belt unlooped, laptop exposed, body scanned, liquids drained, and a smile on my face that says I am allergic to high doses of electricity.

I really should have a small bit of small talk rehearsed, just to show that I am "a friendly", even if I am not one of them.

It should get me out of a tasering, or at the very least, they won't confiscate my moisturiser.

johnlui@sph.com.sg

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 19, 2014

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