4-Minute Coffee with Uncle Reggie: Border crossings
(Sonic 翻譯)

“Where are you disappearing with my passport?”In a foreign country, even the ordinary hotel clerk can casually take my passport and disappear with it for a while. Even though at that moment it’s actually the most important legal document in the world to me. Yet she just walks off with it into a back room, without even asking my permission.

“你拿着我的护照去哪儿了?”… 在异国他乡,即使是普通的酒店职员也可以随便拿走我的护照,带着它消失一段时间。即使在那个时候,它对我来说实在是世界上最重要的法律文件。但她连我的允许都没问,就把它带进了后屋。

I might wonder what she does with it. It’s pretty likely she’s copying it and sending it off somewhere. Instantly, possibly all over the world.


How much paper cash can fit in this trusty “carry-on”?

Do I have an objection?… Can I object? Of course, every border crossing also involves my passport being scanned and copied without asking for my agreement. My information is then sent into a huge database that now contains all the things that have happened to me through that passport connection, accessible to hundreds of thousands of officers throughout the country or even the world, probably forever.

我有异议吗?… 我能反对吗?当然,每次过境都没有征得我的同意,统统都扫描和复制了我的护照。然后,我的信息被发送到一个巨大的数据库中,其中包含了通过护照所关联的发生在我身上的所有事情,全国甚至全世界数十万名官员都可以访问,可能直到永远。

Someone is reviewing all that information and deciding whether to let me in or not, and how best to keep watching me. My electronic file, and yours also, is probably pretty “thick”! Border crossings can have hair-raising implications.


“Just take this carry-on bag!”… I was waiting in the airport for the remainder of the team of about 10 people. The leader of the team walked up to me and nonchalantly handed me a suitcase to be taken on the plane as carry-on luggage. I asked what was inside the luggage, and he explained casually that there was $30,000 in US dollars in bills packed inside!

“就拿着这个随身行李吧!”… 我在机场等着剩下的10个人。领队走到我面前,若无其事地递给我一个手提箱,让我作为随身行李带上飞机。我问他行李里装的是什么,他轻描淡写的说里面装着3万美元的钞票!

A needed gift for construction of an officially approved new school building. He explained that at that time it was just way too complex to do cross-border bank transfers. Since we had 10 people, that really came down to only $3,000 per person, so it was well within the range of “permission”.


I was sort of okay with the “logic”, but just felt funny since I’d read about infamous drug cartels shipping cash monies across borders packed in suitcases.


I’m here, luggage is there… Anyway, boarding was beginning, I dropped my hesitations and proceeded to the boarding gate. Unfortunately, because of the delay in waiting for the rest of the team, we were all at the end of the line. By the time I got to my seat, the luggage compartment above it was packed full.

我在这里,行李在那里… 总之,登机开始了,我放下了犹豫,走向登机口。没想到的是,由于等待团队其他成员的延误,我们都排在了队伍的最后。等我走到我的座位时,上面的行李舱已经被塞满了。

So I took my luggage further down the aisle and stored it about ten seats behind me. This really alarmed me, but I spotted a team member who was at least sitting relatively close by. I quietly warned him to please keep an eye on my luggage, without any explanation that could be easily overheard. I proceeded then to go back to my assigned seat as calmly as possible. What if he went to the bathroom for a few minutes?


Keep calm, or at least look calm… In retrospect, I think I should have just switched my seats with him, because for the whole three-hour flight I was quite nervous and just hoped it didn’t show. Who wants to be responsible for $30,000 cash in a suitcase you can’t even see?!

保持冷静,或者至少看起来冷静… 回想起来,我觉得我应该和他换一下座位,因为在整整三个小时的飞行中,我一直很紧张,只希望不要表现出来。谁愿意为你根本看不見的箱子里的三万美金负责?!

“Do you know, I have US$20,000 in my handbag?”… My wife and I were on a plane from Cincinnati to Asia through San Francisco. A Vietnamese lady we hadn’t ever met before sat in the window seat next to us. For some reason she seemed to trust us, and she blurted out to my wife right next to her that she had $20,000 in cash on her body, mostly in a big handbag. She even showed some cash to us, as if to prove it!

“你知道吗,我的手提包里有2万美元?”… 我和妻子在一架从辛辛那提经旧金山飞往亚洲的飞机上,一位我们从未见过的越南女士坐在我们旁边靠窗的座位上。不知出于何种原因,她似乎很信任我们,她对坐在她旁边的我妻子脱口而出,说她身上有2万美元现金,大部分都在她那个大手提包里。她甚至给我们看了一些现金,似乎是为了证明这一点!

She told us excitedly how she was going to bring the money over to Vietnam because that was the first time she had ever been back, after decades of being away. She had lots of relatives she wanted to give the money to, and she was really looking forward to the visit.


Photo 2A: The border between Myanmar and Thailand is often jungle, where rules can be variable, and crossings even dangerous. 2B. Or it could look quite formal, through a bridge tunnel over a small informal multipurpose river.

Were we excited for her?… We were not exactly thrilled, but, rather, were quite alarmed that she was traveling alone carrying all that cash. That seemed really dangerous to us, given the number of people who might be keenly interested in her handbag. We quietly told her to please hush-hush, not talk so loudly, and not tell anybody else about it.

我们为她感到兴奋吗?… 我们并不是很兴奋,而是很担心她独自带着那么多现金旅行。考虑到很多人可能对她的手提包非常感兴趣,这对我们来说似乎真的很危险。我们悄悄地告诉她请安静,不要这么大声说话,也不要把这件事告诉其他任何人。

We became quite protective of her as we landed in San Francisco, and we escorted her to her gate for her connecting flight to Vietnam. We separated then, but continued to feel quite concerned about her seeming naivety. A ton of cash in a handbag didn’t seem good for a woman traveling alone, anywhere.


“Pst, want to bring something across the border?”… At the train crossing between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, the southernmost mainland city, I was standing on the Hong Kong side, innocently waiting for someone. I must have looked clean-cut and decent, because a man came by who, frankly, did not look that decent. He whispered to me in native Cantonese, “Pst, want to make some extra cash? It’s quite easy,好容易啫!”.


Assuming I was a Cantonese brother, he then proceeded to coach me. I could simply carry in his brand-new cigarettes and alcohol and someone would meet me on the other side, probably himself, and I would get a good bonus for that simple transaction.


I was bemused that he sort of trusted me, but I gently turned down the offer, without turning him in to the police whom I’m sure were watching out for this sort of thing! Or who might be protecting him, who knows?


What’s in the water under the border bridge?… To the uninitiated, border towns always look a bit mysterious. At Chiang Rai, in Northern Thailand, there is a bridge across a small river between Myanmar and Thailand. The location is inside the infamous drug-accursed Golden Triangle area.

边境桥下的水里有什么?… 对于外行人来说,边境城镇总是看起来有点神秘。在泰国北部的清莱,有一座桥横跨缅甸和泰国之间的一条小河。地点在臭名昭著的毒品横行的金三角地区。

To my surprise, there were a few people standing in the water, technically on the Thai side of the river. Some people standing on the Myanmar side of the border on the bridge casually threw items into the water, into the hands of the waiting people below. Somehow that constituted “crossing the border”. Just throw it across! Weird things truly happen at borders!


Delicious egg yolk $300 mooncake border crossing.

“The law is the law.”… However, the law is the law. Even though we might treat it lightly or even frivolously, the law is still the law. Law-abiding travelers can’t really play games with the law!

“法律就是法律。”… 然而,法律就是法律。即使我们可能轻视甚至轻浮地对待它,法律仍然是法律。遵纪守法的旅行者最好小心别戏弄法律!

There was a time when egg yolks from Asia were not allowed into the USA for health reasons. I had a good friend who either forgot this, or thought it wasn’t that critical. He brought over mooncakes which had precious, delicious egg yolk centers.


He had wanted to be really loving to friends and family. The law being the law, it was a $300 price tag just for tasty mooncakes, which were confiscated anyway. The usual reaction to this story from those well traveled is, “I would have swallowed the evidence!”


Notorious drug dealer?… The last name Taylor is quite common, number 17 in the USA (in 2010). The first name John (including variations like Jack, Jonathan or Juan) is always number one. (1) So there must be literally thousands of John Taylors wandering around the world.

臭名昭著的毒贩子?…Taylor这个姓很常见,在2010年美国排名第17位。名字John (包括Jack、Jonathan或Juan等变体)总是排在第一位。因此,世界上一定游荡着成千上万个John Taylor。

One of my good friends had this blessed name, and it seemed like every time we crossed a border checkpoint, he would get hauled off for interrogation. And every time they let him off, saying something silly like, “We’re after a notorious drug dealer called John Taylor. Sorry about that!”

我的一个好朋友就有这个好名字,似乎每次我们穿过边境检查站,他都会被拖去审问。每次他们放他走,都会说些傻话,比如“我们在追捕一个叫John Taylor的臭名昭著的毒贩。对不住了!”

There must be a better way of identifying notorious drug dealer John Taylor. Or my friend John should change his name to a variation of the world-famous James Hudson Taylor (his ancestor), or maybe even to some form of Reginald Tsang. (So far, Google can find only one of those in the world.) No confusion of names there.

肯定有更好的办法找出”臭名昭著的毒贩John Taylor”。或者我的朋友John 应该把他的名字改成世界著名的James Hudson Taylor (中文名叫戴德生,他的祖先)的变体,或者甚至改成某种形式的Reginald Tsang。(到目前为止,谷歌在世界上只能找到一个,那就是我的名字)。名字没有混淆。

Many memories of one of the busiest border crossings in the world. From popular Hong Kong “Airport Strikers” YouTube TV show.

What’s February 31?…
One goofy data point could trip up your passport/visa/immigration application for a long time at any border crossing! Commonly, such applications involve questions like, “Exactly where were you; in what year, month and date; in what city, at what address, under what name?” And don’t make a mistake!


One of our very close family members was applying for a US visa, using a translated Thailand birth certificate. Thai dates are quite different from Western ones, since Thai dates are based on Buddha’s birth and not Christ’s. Since she was officially born on the last day of the second lunar month of the year, the professional translator simply converted it to the last day of the Western February. Which logically seemed to him to be February 31st.


No-nonsense officer… However, when the immigration officer noticed the date, he wasn’t amused, and he stopped the whole application for months to officially correct and validate the new date. It’s not as simple as changing it to March 3rd, since leap years might complicate it! I’m assuming modern-day computers include simpler precise logic.

严肃的官员… 然而,当移民官注意到这个日期时,他很不高兴,他停止了整个申请几个月,以正式更正和验证新的日期。这可不像改到3月3日那么简单,因为闰年可能会让事情变得复杂!我推测现代计算机包含更简单精确的逻辑。

Feeling naked without passport… On one of my travels, I lost my passport at London Heathrow Airport. On another trip, to Russia, I was alarmed that the immigration officer held my passport during the entire day, and only returned it to me when I boarded my return ferry that night, back to Helsinki, Finland.


When you’re in a foreign country, the passport literally is the most important document in the world for you, and without one you feel naked and vulnerable. It’s not a good feeling, especially in a country with very different definitions of freedom.


Extra ID protection … After a US immigration officer heard about my passport concerns, he remarked, “You know, there’s a way to carry your citizenship identification with you as an extra precaution. It’s called a citizenship ID! Did you know that?” I took his great advice.


I’m not sure why it’s not more widely known, but it has given me great reassurance, carrying it safely in my wallet on all my travels. My proof of citizenship in my pocket if I were ever in any trouble overseas!


Now deceased “Brother Andrew” had a world-famous border crossing legacy, especially in Eastern Europe, inspiring many others.

Border crossing “Snake-heads” … Border crossings represent opportunity, promise, and dreams. Literally millions of people cross borders every day, legally or not. And many “snake-heads” (specialist crooks who facilitate illegal immigration) jump at their opportunity to make huge illegal profits.


The family of my very good friend PY paid a huge price for snake-heads to get him, then a teenager, from Fujian Province, through South America and Central America, to land in New York City.


After being handed over to numerous intermediate snake-heads, dumped on enough seashores, and running through police traps, he finally got to safety, one long year later. He is now a bona fide upright citizen serving his community! A good American dream after dangerous border crossing nightmares.


Lifetime hundreds of “no-joking” border crossings … Indeed, I have literally crossed hundreds of borders, maybe even a thousand, mostly because of international academic lectures and mobilization of volunteers for East Asian missions, plus leading short-term youth mission trips.

一生中有数百个“不开玩笑”的过境点… 事实上,我确实跨越了数百条边界,甚至可能是上千条,主要是因为国际学术讲座和东亚服务志工的动员,以及带领短期青年服务之旅。

After the 911 terrorist attacks, border crossing security often posted an intimidating sign, “No joking allowed!” Border crossings, and especially their guards, can indeed be deadly serious.


Final crossing… Seriously, everyone has a serious final border crossing. You might think that the documents, passports, visas and paperwork could be overwhelming. But not really. A very sensitive author, whose name became the most common English name ever (2), recorded the key concept, that “heartwork” was the only requirement. (3) No games, no cash, no documents. Just the heart, really.

最后的穿越… 不是開玩笑的,每个人都有一个重要的最后过境点。你可能会认为文件、护照、签证和文书可能会让人不知所措。但事实并非如此。一位非常敏感的作家,他的名字成为了有史以来最常见的英文名字,记录了关键的概念,“用心”是唯一的要求。(3)无游戏,无现金,无文件。只是心态,真的。

2.This most famous English name has many variations, sometimes not even recognized, such as Shawn, Jean, Sean or Yohan.
3.John 1:12

2.这个最著名的英文名字有许多变体,有时甚至不被识别,例如Shawn, Jean, Sean或Yohan。