The Duke and Duchess of Sussex from all reports are having the time of their lives in Australia, the land Down Under. It was 20 years ago when I first set foot on the continent along with a gal pal. We were young, naïve, intrepid travelers, whose introduction to the great outback was an eye-opener which to this day I have not forgotten.
My friend and I are travel buddies, and on occasions we team up to go on vacations to countries that appeal to both of us. This time, we decided to tour Australia and five Asian countries: Hong Kong (before it was returned to China), Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and South Korea. We flew Cathay Pacific which in my opinion, is still a classy airline today as it was then. A couple times we were upgraded to first class, which added an element of luxury to our travel that was like adding icing to cake.
In those days, budget and itinerary planning were not set priorities for either of us. Our main interests were to explore exotic places in the world. In the month that we traversed Asia, we flew into Hong Kong, the hub-airport for Cathay Pacific, several times to make our connections. A few of the flights were no more than three or four hours from country to country, but the longest flight-time was to Australia.
The crew on board Cathay Pacific were wonderful. We were anxious and excited
about visiting Sydney. It was our first time and we eagerly looked forward to investigating Darling Harbor, examining the much talked about Sydney Opera House, strolling the popular and often star studded Bondi Beach, and many other attractions peculiar to Sydney. We had no cell phones, laptops, iPads, no technology of any kind to distract us, only the camera with the Fuji reels which you had to switch out once you snapped the quota of pictures, 21 or 28 exposures if I am not mistaken. The good old days 🤣.
On landing at the Sydney International Airport, after immigration processing, we quickly grabbed our bags and proceeded to walk the long corridor looking for the exit. A young man, about our age, came along side us striking up a friendly conversation. When you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear. We chatted freely with him. He asked questions concerning our travels like “where we had been, where we were going, what were we planning to do in Australia,” etc. He was an undercover police officer. He asked us to follow him to a room where we were further questioned and asked if we had any food items. My friend and I said, “No. We did not.”
That reply was obviously the wrong answer. Suddenly, the room temperature felt chilly, once smiling faces now looked serious and unfriendly. We were politely asked to open our bags to be searched. From every nook and cranny, they pulled out granola bars,
package peanuts, pretzels, cocoa puffs, hot chocolate and tea bags, crackers, little bottles of juices, jelly and jam packets. With our stash spread on the table we were still not perturbed by the display until a female officer came into the room and proceeded to scold us. She declared, “the reason why Australia does not suffer from some of the major diseases that plague other countries is because they are very strict on the foods that cross their borders.”
Our naïve protest was that we didn’t have any food, these were only snacks, munchies to tie us over on our trips when we had long lay-overs. We were toting them from place to place until we could get a proper meal. She responded, “Anything that goes into the mouth is food.” She threatened to throw us into quarantine and jail. At this point, the furtive officer who brought us into the room realized we were caught off guard, not malicious in our intent, and that the female officer was over-reacting. He intervened explaining the mistake was merely our interpretation of what food is.
This explanation seemed to appease her. She let us go with fair warnings if caught again bringing foods in their country we would be sent packing – to prison. All the items were confiscated, and we were escorted from the room. We were left nervous and shaken from the ordeal. The covert officer was right in his estimation of the situation. He was able to save our trip and us from lockup. Our mind-set was junk-food is not food and can never take the place of real nutritious foods like: potatoes, yam, rice, beans, fruits and vegetables.
Our time spent in Sydney turned out to be wonderful, aside from the experience at the airport. I must convey that I hold no ill feelings regarding what took place. Every country has laws to be obeyed and enforced. It just so happened that I ran afoul of the law that day, and she drove the fear of God into our young hearts with threats of jail time to set us straight. I have not been back to Australia since, but it looks like it is time to revisit Down Under. Assuredly, I have learned my lesson and would not now be stopped for any food items, not even a crumb.
To this day I cannot tell you how I managed to exit the airport, or recount the memory of the ride to our hotel. However, we did manage to have a wonderful time exploring the city, visiting the opera house, climbing the Harbour Bridge, visiting the aquarium, digging our toes in the sand at Bondi, riding the local buses and more. It has been two decades since that incident and I can still recall the details of the conversation in that room like it happened yesterday.
Community Peeps, would you believe on this same tour, a paring knife was taken from my carry-on bag at the Narita International Airport in Japan? But that’s another story for another day. You may wonder how in the world do I manage to find myself in these precarious positions. I ask myself the same questions. Do you have a similar experience? What close encounters with the law have you had whilst travelling? Would you like to share? Pray do tell!
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