Emilee Franklin- Originally Posted in the Pine County Courier April 13, 2017
Threat to National Security?
While traveling home this late December from China to Minnesota I experienced something that I imagine hasn’t happened to most people, but may be increasingly happening as security measures at airports tighten. I experienced the sheer thrill of being surrounded by five airport security agents and had three Hong Kong police officers running towards me in an instant. I was attempting to check my carry-on bag in an effort to head home for New Years at the Hong Kong International Airport.
Petrified would be an understatement of how I felt in that moment. While my carry-on bag was passing through the X-ray, something within it had alerted security as suspicious. I knew this is a common occurrence at airports from what I have observed and experienced. That was until the questions started from the first security officer, “What is in your bag?” “Nothing,” I awkwardly stammered.
Obviously, there were a lot of different items in my bag, as it was bursting at the seams but nothing that would be considered dangerous. I knew I was not a criminal and would not be dumb enough to bring a weapon or anything illegal through airport security, especially in a foreign country. After a few minutes with more airport security guards joining the search intensified. When the one security guard grabbed my small black purse and said the object was in it, I sighed. I figured out exactly what they had been searching for. The item they were looking for was a small black kubotan.
A kubotan is a blunt metal object with no sharp edges which is used for self-defense purposes. They are typically no bigger than 5 inches long, and usually just slightly thicker than a marker or a pen. They were originally developed by Takayuki Kubota a Japanese-American master of karate in the late 1960s. He initially designed them for the Los Angeles Police Department officers as a tool for their female staff.
I had completely forgotten about the object altogether as it was in my purse, where it usually resides in case I need to defend myself. Typically anytime I travel I make sure that I do not have any weapons on me. I left the knife I bought in China safely in my apartment, and after going through China and Hong Kong customs metal detectors without having any problems, I did not think I had my kubotan with me, or at least in my carry on. The first airport security guard who found it did not know what the object was and was worried it was explosive. She began asking me if it was a bomb while making a huge scene calling for back up. I was mortified. All I could do was keep repeating what the object was, and that I did not intend to bring it with me. My flight was leaving in less than two hours, and here I was in a swirl of guards at the airport security line, thinking that my life was over. I couldn’t help but think that my next stop may be a cold, dark and possibly labor intensive Hong Kong or China prison all for the price of carrying a “weapon,” for my own self-defense.
Quickly I was ushered off to the side with another guard, and the questions continued while being surrounded by three Hong Kong police officers. Name, age, job, what are you doing in Hong Kong? Where did you get the weapon? Who gave you the weapon? What was your intent with this weapon? I nervously, although I had no real reason to be nervous, began to answer all of the questions. I stated my friend gave me the weapon to carry for self-defense purposes, and that I never intended to bring it through airport security. I said that they could take it, or whatever they needed to do and that I was very sorry. Then came the question… “So your friend gave you this weapon to take on the plane?” “No, absolutely not, just to carry in China,” I answered, worried.
With that last answer, I couldn’t help but think I should have just kept my mouth shut, and “plead the 5th,”I am fairly confident that some weapons are illegal to carry in China, especially on transit systems. Then, not only was I worried about what was going on, I was concerned with what possible crime that I had committed and had I just volunteered the information too. After what seemed like a hundred more questions, came a pause after I was asked if I understood any Chinese.
I answered that I understood a little bit of Mandarin. What a mistake that was. For the next at least 15 minutes the guards, and airport security communicated with each other in Cantonese only, another dialect of Chinese, so there was not a chance for me to even have a clue what was going on. I sunk deeper and deeper into the chair I was sitting in, my face was burgundy, heart throbbing, tense, and thinking that my parents are not going to be too pleased if they have to come rescue me from prison in China. After what seemed like an eternity one of the guards began to chat with me in more of a friendly manner. He asked why I was heading to the “criminal city,” of Chicago, and why I was in China. He thought it was cool that I was teaching abroad, and told me his travels in Chicago.
After awhile, I got the courage to ask, “How much trouble am I in?”
“Trouble?” he questioned, “You are not in any trouble with me, just the airport security. You are allowed to carry a kubotan, just not at the airport. Don’t worry about it,” he claimed.
Of course, I still worried. After all, my flight was leaving now in less than 45 minutes, and I was still surrounded by security guards. After having the “weapon,” confiscated, photographed, and filling out some forms, I was told I was free to go, and if I wanted to pick up my kubotan at the Hong Kong Airport within two weeks, I would be able to do so. For my next two air trips, I was also paranoid that I would be on some list, and must have checked at least a dozen times to make sure that I did not have my kubotan on me. Nothing happened.
The whole situation, although tense for myself, was handled in a very calm manner, and mostly in my native language, English. Next time you are traveling, you may want to double check your pockets or bags for banned materials, no matter how confident you are, to avoid an embarrassing and possibly costly situation.