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China 2006

Getting to China

Eric Johnson Jan 3, 2006

The technical team was first to arrive in Shanghai, for this final leg
of Marketplace’s China Project, to prepare for the broadcast next week.
We got in last night and had a pleasant (and much needed) rest at the
Pujiang Astor House Hotel.

But getting here, along with about $40,000 worth of equipment, wasn’t
short a few bumps…

A few weeks ago we’d learned that the company that would be supplying
our broadcast equipment in China would not be able to fulfill a couple
of key pieces. So we had to find a way to get the necessary equipment
to China from the states. Luckily our vendors were already aware of the
project and it wasn’t too difficult to get the equipment we needed
prepared for us – the only real question was getting the gear to China.

We opted to travel with the equipment as luggage, pay the excess
baggage charges and cover the international trade duties via a Carnet, as
several colleagues advised us that this would ease our experience going
through customs. Having now done so, I think it was money very well

But because of how differently China and America’s respective
bureaucracies have their pipeline’s threaded – or perhaps simply due to the ever
present downside to holiday travel – getting the Carnet activated in
the United States was where I found the real challenge.

Departing out of LAX, the lines were endless – even at 3am when I’d
arrived for my 7am flight. After getting to the head of the line and
after much ado I was told that I would have to deplane at SFO, collect both
personal and commercial luggage and go to customs there.

A few hours pass on an incredibly bumpy flight and equally bumpy
landing at SFO (there were serious winds and storms in California on my way
out) – I head down to baggage claim and collect all 7 pieces – some 200
odd pounds of luggage. With most of the commercial gear precariously
fitting on the $3 luggage cart, carry-on strapped to my back, and a
rolling personal bag dragging behind me, I set off to track down a customs

After about half an hour of schlepping and a healthy relief sigh, I’m
able to track down the appropriate customs office – which is closed for
the holiday. The sign on the door tells me to find Area G and speak
with a customs official there.


I begin again asking for directions from various officials and
information desk attendants, go up and down several elevators and corridors – I
begin to wonder if I could personally draw a map of SFO – when finally
I get to ‘Arrival area G’ where an IMMENSELY helpful woman who answers
the white courtesy phone advises me to go through the large metal doors
down the hall. Upon approach I find bright yellow signs saying, “Do
not enter” and something about perjury or death and dismemberment which I
ignore and go through anyway to find the immensely helpful woman
sitting there ready to direct me to the Carnet Customs officer.


After a luggage re-check – I’m back on the flight from SFO to Shanghai
for 13 hours.

Upon arriving in Shanghai, I’m quite nervous about the customs
experience I’m about to have. It took us forever to get our appropriate visas
in order, only to resolve them at the last minute. We had lengthy
documents we submitted to the Chinese Foreign Affairs Office only to be
given permission to do business at all. Further, I spent a few hours
trying to get the appropriate documents signed just to exit the US merely
13 hours prior. This was going to be grueling at best.

After passing through the ‘infra-red sensors’ and through quarantine, I
gather the luggage again and head to customs. I stand there at a
podium and the officer opens the Carnet, tears out a page and asks me to
fill it out. He then signs and stamps my document and directs me to go
through a frosted glass door.

This must be where things will get rough – where they’ll search through
my belongings and verify all of my ‘i’ dotting, or the interrogations
as to why I have transmitters in my bags, or what I’m doing with
microphones and recording devices – “Are you a spy?” they’ll ask me.

But I move towards the frosted sliding glass door and as it opens I
notice this is the exit! There is my colleague Michael and the van
driver, patiently awaiting my arrival to head to the hotel!

After all of the trouble getting OUT of the U.S. – getting into China
was an unexpected BREEZE!

Let’s hope the rest of the broadcast can go so smoothly.

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