I don’t do drugs, let alone smuggle them. When I fly, I am always nice to the flight crew, and I am almost always certain I don’t have a bomb in my shoe or my underwear. So imagine my surprise when I found myself sitting in airport prison, being questioned, with Christine glaring at me, about to be arrested in SINGAPORE!
Only twelve hours before, I was happily getting ready for a long journey from L.A. to Bali, off to have a fun vacation with Christine. The trip had a couple of flight connections, one in Manila, another in Singapore. Easy! Every couple of hours, we simply had to get off one plane, walk through a terminal, and board another. Our transfer in Manila went according to plan, no problems at all. I had no reason to believe that Singapore would be any different. Now here I sat, in the holding area of the nicest airport I had ever seen, waiting for the police to show up and talk to me about some minor WEAPONS SMUGGLING CHARGES! What the heck?
When our plane landed at the Singapore airport, we shuffled off the plane to the news that things here are a little different…instead of strolling from this plane to the next, we had to leave the terminal, collect our bags, go though immigration, go find our next airline, re-check in, go back through airport security, and then board our next flight. We were kind of hungry, but ok, no problem, we had about 2 hours. Christine and I grabbed our big backpacks that we had checked in and, in a bit of a hurry, and headed out through immigration to find the next airline. Two options here–Declare something, or nothing to declare. We’re not exactly carrying a questionably large amount of cash (perhaps the opposite!), no hidden plant-life, no cats in our backpacks–nothing to declare. Christine scanned her bag and she was good to go. I dropped my bag on the X-Ray conveyor belt, it went through, got sucked back in, came out, back in again, and finally shot out for the last time. Great! We can be off. I grabbed it, went to sling it on, and felt a strong tug as a uniformed officer said, “Sir, can we please speak with you for a moment about the contents of your bag?”
Here I want to remind you, I had no idea I was even going to leave the terminal in Singapore.
THE “MISUNDERSTANDING” BEGINS!
Anyway, I was a little perplexed, but said sure. Mr. Officer ushered me out of line to a table behind security. I was informed the X-Ray seemed to have picked up SEVERAL illegal items. Several? Seriously? Several. His words started to get fuzzy as visions of some poor teen being caned for spray painting cars started to race through my head. This is SINGAPORE! I snapped out of it when he detailed the offensive items, including a baton and two illegal knives. Oooooh……shit. THOSE illegal items. Christine is not going to like this.
The Officer asked me to remove the listed items so they could further inspect them. I unpacked everything since this stuff was jammed on the bottom. To my surprise, this officer was incredibly nice while fantastically intimidating. He examined each weapon individually. One he handed back, a basic pocket knife, the other two he said he had to confiscate. What a relief! Confiscate them ALL if you like! “Okay, no worries, sorry I didn’t tell you, see you later” is what I thought I would say. NOPE! The Officer said, “Sir, come with me please. We need to let the police know about your attempted smuggling of illegal weapons into our country. I am really sorry to do this to you though.” I was going to be gently detained in airport prison by the kindest man I’d ever met. Wow.
OFF TO AIRPORT PRISON!
I was lead behind the scenes of the airport and told ever so nicely to sit at a desk “please” and wait for the police to arrive. While just a few minutes ago we were worried about missing our next flight, now I was worried about my upcoming prison sentence in the notoriously strict country of Singapore!
I looked at Christine, she had a smirk on her face that looked like “I told you so.” But I am fluent in Christine West facial expressions and it continued to say: “Are you fricking kidding me? Did you somehow NOT see this ending badly? You know I am still going to Bali without you, Right?” Yet she just smiled as I apologized to her and sweetly said “No worries, we will figure this out.”
That’s when the Officer decided to chat us up about our life and our vacation, while apologizing for the situation. We were the sorry ones, but he was apologizing for the inconvenience?? Then he reminded me I would be arrested without hesitation next time I was caught weapons smuggling, but they were really sorry about that too. When he found out we were just trying to catch a connection, he apologized for the delay and ASSURED us we would NOT miss that flight, “again, so sorry!” And then he kept chatting with us about our time away from home.
This all goes back to when Christine and I were in Guatemala. You may remember that some months ago I wrote an article about training in the Filipino martial art of Kali in Antigua? Well, I really enjoyed my time learning from Ron there and wanted to continue with my training. Since Christine and I were headed to South East Asia with no set plans, I thought we may end up in the Philippines where Kali and Silat had originated. I hoped to have at least a few lessons in the birthplace of the art. Along these lines, I decided to take some of the tools of the trade to train with on the off chance I would get this once in a lifetime opportunity. Totally rational, right? These tools included an expandable baton (yes the kind you see the police carry all over the world) and a very cheap Karambit, a folding knife used in Silat and Kali with a curved blade. I checked to make sure this wouldn’t be a problem in Bali, and it wasn’t, but do you remember when I said I had no idea I would ACTUALLY be spending time in Singapore? I never checked the rules there. A quick visit to a Singapore customs site may have saved a LOT of trouble!!
Back in airport prison, Mr. Officer was asking all sorts of getting to know a new friend type questions. Where are you from in the U.S.? Have you ever been to Hawaii? Oh you worked there?!? You must surf. Bali has great surfing, you two will love it there. Are you coming back to Singapore? You should really explore our city, it’s SO beautiful and has AMAZING food. It is expensive here though, so don’t stay too long and burn through your cash.” Yup. He gave us tour advice while I signed documents saying I would not smuggle anything into Singapore again.
Turns out, not only is Singapore home to the nicest people on the planet, but they are pretty understanding on first offenses. The police showed up, very politely told me to continue waiting while they looked at the “weapons” and had me start to fill out paperwork. This was just going to be a written warning, nothing more. The papers were only to say it was okay for them to confiscate the items that were now illegal, only because I DIDN’T DECLARE THEM. Ooppss! I could have DECLARED them! Never even crossed my mind. I am really bad at smuggling, apparently.
I started to go line by line on the official documents, making sure not to miss anything else. In the end, I was given back the knife with a, “we are so sorry we took it. So sorry we can’t give back the baton, but rules are rules.” We threw that thing in the trash immediately.
We were turned loose from airport prison with a friendly hand shake and a farewell. We grabbed our bags and continued on with no further issues, all the while interacting with the nicest airport staff in existence. We made it our departure gate on time, which was right next to a huge indoor butterfly sanctuary so passengers can see something beautiful while they wait. That’s not necessarily part of the story, it’s just really awesome that an airport is so concerned about passenger serenity.
Christine and I flopped down outside the gate to wait for boarding. I looked over and apologized to her again. She just smiled back and said: “I was already planning what to do in Bali while you stayed here in airport prison.”