When I arrived back in the US, I was suffering from a really bad cold. This suffering was magnified by the feeling of having steal spikes pressing into my ears due to my inability to equalize the pressure in my sinuses. Although I had slept most of the flight, I did manage to fill out a landing card just prior to landing. The only thing I was unsure about was if my transfer in Peking counted as visiting China. I figured that it didn’t, and omitted that country from the list. Indecently, the US landing card is huge! No other country I have ever visited asks as many questions of its visitors and residents.
The customs official asked me how long I had been out of the country, to which I replied “six weeks”. Then he asked how many days, to which I responded, “Umm, whatever six times seven is.” There was no way my cold addled mind could possibly do that level of math at the time. I don’t think that this was the cause of his drawing of a thick red line next to my personal information and writing a large “I” next to it. I figured that if this had to do with China, he would have put the big red line next to the country information instead.
When you get a big red “I”, it means that you have to see secondary customs. This room is tucked in a far away corner and had about four clerk-looking officials, one of whom seemed to have the air of a police officer. The police officer guy had the same uniform as everyone else but gave off the impression that he was striving to achieve the worst stereotype of an asshole cop. He looked at me suspiciously, and I imagined that he was thinking that I was a suspect that he’d like to use his taser on. The other clerks were much more friendly.
I was the only other person in the room, and the clerk nearest me indicated that I should place my landing card and passport into a pidgin hole on top of her desk. This seemed idiotic to me because I could have simply handed them to the clerk, but bureaucrats need to follow their procedures I guess. She told me to take a seat, so I laid my back pack on the ground in front of me and used it as a foot rest so I could get as comfortable as possible. The cop glared at me for a second and then went on about his business. The clerk looked me up on her computer and started asking me questions about who I was and what the names of my parents were. I had to get up and approach her because, with my head pressurized as it was, I couldn’t hear her. It became pretty obvious that the problem was that someone with my name was on some sort of watch list. Yep, despite what the movies tell you, the government can’t tell two people with the same name apart, even when they have government issued passport.
While I was there, two more people entered the room. Both were students, and another clerk dealt with them. They both had some mix up related to the name of the schools they were attending on their student visas. It seems that this is the most common reason people visit secondary customs.
Anyway, they let me go, and I was still one of the first people to get out of the customs area, checking baggage is for people who like to wait.