I used to sit on the 21st floor. Now I am retired

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Duty Free in Black

So, if I already wasn't fuming enough about the need to carry clothes along with my laptop in my laptop bag, to avoid waiting at the lines for checked-in laggage, AND, if I already am not pissed about buying shaving cream and toothpaste in every location I land up in, to avoid the use of cottage industry paste available in most hotels (Why can't they have good toothpastes and shaving creams, if they can have expensive conditioners and loofahs?), yesterday's flight from Hong Kong was an additional reason to hate security measures at airports.

No, I am not talking about the old Chinese woman who was travelling with her older, balder husband, to Bangkok, where the flight stopped over. At Hong Kong airport, barely three people away from a the baggage screener and the pile of toothpaste, mineral water bottles, deos, a couple of beer cans and pasty ginseng aphrodisiacs, she did a nifty trick. The husband was carrying some foul-smelling food stuff in a tetrapack. It seemed like paste or liquid (some of it had leaked outside). In a move which will stay with me for some time, he calmly took it out and handed it to the woman, who anxiously stuffed it inside her little black and silver handbag. Then, in a move cool enough to be voted next to Travolta's dance steps in Saturday Night Fever, she walked around the line of people, walked past the baggage screener and into the airplane. Nobody stopped her. Don't think anybody noticed her or the foul smell.

And I am not even talking about her. The reason why I hate the security measures was that I was unable to add to my single malt collection because of them. In fact, I couldn't even manage a bottle of Cutty Sark.

At the Hong Kong Duty Free shop, we were prevented from buying over Gentleman Jack and one bottle of Bowmore by the sweet lady at the counter.
"Can I have a look at your boarding pass, please?"
"Yes, it's AI-359."
"Sorry, AI doesn't allow alcohol."
With that, she pursed her lips and put the bottles away in the shelf.

Air India apparently thinks that whisky is a security threat, while most other airlines don't. So, we boarded the flight empty-handed. However, I took it well. I knew that Indian duty-free did quite well when it came to whiskies. It wouldn't have any exotic stuff, but the Red and Black Labels would do for the purposes of stocking up for acquaintances.

However, the experience in the one Duty Free shop in Mumbai has left a bad taste in the mouth.

The ill-lit overcrowded shop was being manned by two burly men. The shop was overcrowded, especially at the counter. The whole appearance was of a relief truck in a refugee camp. Which perhaps reflected the state of mind of the shoppers, anxious for a tipple.

I got a 2-litre bottle of Cutty Sark and reached the counter. Two of my friends travelling alongside me got their own drinks - one bottle of Finlandia and two bottles of red wine. We extended a credit card to them.
"Only cash, no credit card."
"Why?"
"Machine chal nahin raha hai." (Machine's not working.)
"Okay, but we don't have US dollars."
The prices in the Indian duty free shops are only written in US dollars.
"Any other currency will do."

And there started the theft. The Cutty Sark, according to them was 220 HK dollars. We didn't have that much currency, so we passed it on. On to Finlandia ($ 12).

How much? We handed one of the men the 100 HKD note.
"100 HK dollars."
Even assuming the thumbrule of $1= 8 HKD, the maths works out to $12=96 HKD. But the man refused to return any money.
"Kaise?"
"Timepass mat karo." (Don't waste mine and yours time)
It was 12 o'clock in the night and we did want that bottle. We didn't protest. Now, I feel bad.

Then, was the turn for one of the red wine bottles.
"$ 8"
"Hong Kong dollars?"
"64"
We gave him the last of our Hong Kong dollars. Another 100 dollar note.
He gave us 4 US Dollars back. When we hung around for exact change, the other man made a face and said, "Chalo, late ho raha hai. Theek hi to diya." (It's getting late. I gave the right amount.)
We asked for the bill. He refused.
"Itna bhir hai. Time kahan hai? Nahin chahiye, to rakh do wapas." (It's so crowded. Where's the time? If you don't want it (bottle), leave it back.)
On this transaction, he should have returned 50 cents more, but he kept it to himself.

Incidentally, using actual currency conversion rates of $ 1 = 7.78 HKD (from here), he made 10% extra returns on both these transactions. All black, since he didn't give us the bill. Plus, we don't even have a credit card slip to prove this.

*****

While ITDC and AAI are concerned that they are losing money at the departure Duty Free shops, they have no impunity in allowing such black-marketing to continue in the arrival shops. And from the entire end-to-end experience, one can easily jump to the conspiracy conclusion that Air India is hand in glove with the shops.

If you are interested in finding out more about threats that single malt bottles and toothpastes pose and KY Jelly and gel-filled bras don't, read Flying Toilet Terror Labs*.
Now for the fun part. Take your hydrogen peroxide, acetone, and sulfuric acid, measure them very carefully, and put them into drinks bottles for convenient smuggling onto a plane. It's all right to mix the peroxide and acetone in one container, so long as it remains cool. Don't forget to bring several frozen gel-packs (preferably in a Styrofoam chiller deceptively marked "perishable foods"), a thermometer, a large beaker, a stirring rod, and a medicine dropper. You're going to need them.
It's best to fly first class and order Champagne. The bucket full of ice water, which the airline ought to supply, might possibly be adequate - especially if you have those cold gel-packs handy to supplement the ice, and the Styrofoam chiller handy for insulation - to get you through the cookery without starting a fire in the lavvie....Once the plane is over the ocean, very discreetly bring all of your gear into the toilet. You might need to make several trips to avoid drawing attention. Once your kit is in place, put a beaker containing the peroxide / acetone mixture into the ice water bath (Champagne bucket), and start adding the acid, drop by drop, while stirring constantly. Watch the reaction temperature carefully. The mixture will heat, and if it gets too hot, you'll end up with a weak explosive. In fact, if it gets really hot, you'll get a premature explosion possibly sufficient to kill you, but probably no one else.
After a few hours - assuming, by some miracle, that the fumes haven't overcome you or alerted passengers or the flight crew to your activities - you'll have a quantity of TATP with which to carry out your mission. Now all you need to do is dry it for an hour or two.
Thomas Greene in the above article and Patrick Smith in Salon have shown that the security measures are ill-conceived, ineffective and perhaps, even more dangerously, malafide. Others have even pointed out that perhaps there's a greater conspiracy behind this, an attempt by the governments to rattle up hysteria and fear. I add another reason behind the recent measures. In India, these measures have continued on the insistence of a few malicious black-marketers within the Indian airports and aviation establishment. To make sure that their profiteering continues. With rudeness on the side.

*The writer, Thomas C Greene, got into some rough weather over his wonderfully detailed exposition of the dangers posed by whisky and toothpaste. He was accused of eating babies' souls and making dogs bark.

7 Comments:

Blogger amit varma said...

Should have taken a picture of the guy and his name and put it online, no. Forever when his family Googles his name...

Sunday, September 24, 2006 11:48:00 PM

 
Blogger Arthur Quiller Couch said...

You're in Bombay and you don't have your own home-delivery bootlegger? Very infra dig. Positively archaeological.

Monday, September 25, 2006 1:13:00 AM

 
Blogger Rishi said...

>"Sorry, AI doesn't allow alcohol."

That is probably because of high "morality", not high terror- possibly the same reason why we ban the consumption of alcohol on domestic flights.

WHat a horrific instance of thuggery. And, as you say, there is little chance of redress short of a tehelka style undercover operation and expose.

Monday, September 25, 2006 1:40:00 AM

 
Blogger Rishi said...

Were you able to meet Pranob while you were there? He was in HK for something or the other as well.

Monday, September 25, 2006 1:53:00 AM

 
Blogger blr bytes said...

And in Bangalore, the duty free counter is *the* place to get your stock of imported maal. They'll even deliver!

Monday, September 25, 2006 4:40:00 AM

 
Blogger dhoomketu said...

Amit, don't think the cretin or his family will be on internet.

AQC, Sorry. You know my email id. Please to help!

Rishi, morality as a reason is possible. Though unlikely. And didn't get to meet Pranob. How's he?

Bb, next time when I am there...

Monday, September 25, 2006 9:23:00 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are a complaining, stupid traveller. Stop being a pain for everyone else. Wise up or stay home. Alternatively do some research, grow up and act accordingly.
The World is FULL of whingers already.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008 4:30:00 PM

 

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