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June 03, 2005


I dunno about you, but I enjoy travelling. I have been to a number of countries (Austria, Belgium, California*, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Monoco, NZ, UK, USA, etc) and one of the things that makes travel interesting is that things are different. Think about that for a moment. If the whole world was full of people just like your neighbours, you wouldn't need to travel any more (you would also have a lot more fighting). Sometimes the differences are exhilarating (e.g. the way Italians wave their arms all the time), sometimes they can be depressing (e.g. the price of Mac's in the USA). The point is that they are different and that gives a nice contrast when you come home again.

That difference stems from a number of things but a key component is the culture and government of the place you are visiting. A smart traveller considers that and makes the appropriate allowances. For example, it would be smart to learn at least a few phrases in the relevant foreign language. It would also be worth checking what special rules apply - which side of the road do they drive on (even pedestrians need to know this)? Can you be jailed without a charge? Is their legal system innocent until guilty, guilty until innocent, or guilty unless you can afford the lawyers? Are the police likely to help a stranded traveller or arrest them? Are bribes the norm?

An even smarter traveller things about drugs. I have to take medication - every day for the rest of my life. It keeps me alive. It is only available in Australia by prescription (i.e. authorised by a doctor, purchased from a registered pharmacist). That drug is banned in some countries. Before I leave, I get a letter from my doctor explaining why I have it, how may tablets I take per day and how many I am carrying with me. The letter goes with my passport. I take two lots of tablets - one in my carry-on luggage, the other in my main bag - just in case I loose one. Both lots are in prescription bottles with my name and the drug details on them. If asked at customs, I show them the letter. I have never had a problem yet.

As a traveller, I also used to make sure that I locked my bags. Now, it is no longer possible to do that in some places (like the USA). Given that, when I arrive at my destination, I take care to listen and answer the questions carefully:

Q: Is this your bag?
A: Yes.
Q: Did you pack it yourself?
A: Yes but the bag is unlocked and has been out of my possession since I left Sydney.
Q: Would you mind opening the bag?
A: I would prefer that you open the bag, so that anything that has been added to the bag can be tested for fingerprints...

The other interesting observation is that Sydney airport does not have any parking remotely close to where you get on a plane. You walk for miles (or seem to) with your bags. You *know* how heavy your bags are. If the bags feel heavier at the other end - you would be suspicious. A kilogram might not be noticed but 4 or 5 would certainly show up when the bag itself only weighs 8 or 9 kilos.

What is the point of this post? I have refrained from commenting on the Schapelle Corby case while it was before a court - unlike the mainstream media, I did not want to inflame an already tense situation. I think there are a number of key points that the media is playing down in an attempt to boost the story (some of which are addressed above). The situation has got to the point where some complete and absolute moron has sent some kind of (possibly harmless) powder to the Indonesian embassy in Canberra.

Point 1: Indonesia is not Australia. Their law is their law. She has been tried under their law and been found guilty. End of story.

Point 2: Indonesian law finding an Australian guilty is not a reason for withdrawing aid from Indonesia. Especially not aid given after the tsunami disaster.

Point 3: The evidence against her was pretty damming. Her defence was circumstantial. If you want to help her, find evidence for the appeal or try to help the prime minister arrange a prisoner-trade (i.e. she serves her sentence in an Australian jail).

Point 4: Don't go making things worse by "retaliating". Try to think rationally for a moment and imagine that an Indonesian national broke Australian law (e.g. a people smuggler or a drug smuggler). How would you feel if the Indonesian media (and people) were clamouring for the release of a convicted drug smuggler in Australia?

[* I am not sure that California counts as a country or as part of the USA. Isn't California a state of mind?]

Posted by Ozguru at June 3, 2005 08:00 AM


Hear Hear.

Especially relevent when you relise how heavy a boogie board is... maybe 1kg in total in the bag...

Posted by: Pete at June 3, 2005 10:25 AM

Great post. You pointed out several things that travelers from other countries might not even think about -- the prescription medicine thing, for example.

Uh, even we here in the US wonder about California, you know.

Posted by: Tig at June 3, 2005 11:06 AM

After writing this piece, I found a post in The Age by Tony Parkinson:

The parcel of white powder sent to the Indonesian embassy in Canberra is a gift to the extremists of Jemaah Islamiah. Abu Bakar Bashir could not have planned it better himself.

For all his organisation's efforts to incite fear and loathing between Indonesia and Australia, for all the violent provocations, Bashir had been unable to bring about the brain snap in either culture that would generate the cycle of tit-for-tat retribution that he and his fellow religious warriors so deeply craved. How bizarre, then, that he should get just the trigger he wanted as a result of communal hysteria in this country over the fate of a woman found in possession of a large, commercial quantity of cannabis at Denpasar Airport.

Think back on all the trauma Australia and Indonesia have endured these past years: the mass murder of 200 young holidaymakers in Bali; the pain and misery as the wounded were flown home; the trials of Amrozi, Imam Samudra and Mukhlas, the three smirking co-conspirators in the bombings; the galling spectacle of Bashir using his own trial as a celebrity showcase to stoke anti-Western sentiment, and promote the global jihad; the carnage of innocent Indonesians dying in the Australian embassy bombing in Jakarta.

Through all this, there was profound anger. In Australia and Indonesia alike. Yet a relationship between two nations with an awkward history survived. Common sense prevailed, and when Indonesia suffered the disaster of the Boxing Day tsunami, Australians led the world in generosity.

Today, however, Australia is presenting a different face to the world, a rerun of the Ugly Australian of old: belligerent, boorish and, in some cases, plain bigoted. The Schapelle Corby case has given rise to a tidal wash of rampant anti-Indonesian sentiment, fuelled by cheap, cynical media reporting.

Now, to make matters very much worse, a sick individual has sent bacterial powder to the Indonesian embassy, in a vicious, cowardly attempt to terrorise. Why? Early suspicions suggest inane vigilantism: an attempt to hit back at Indonesian authorities over a decision by a properly constituted court in Bali to find Corby guilty as charged.


This will do nothing to help Corby's appeal, or her chances of a prison transfer home. But the far greater danger is this: as Australia and Indonesia struggle to contain a poisonous outbreak of extremism in the region, the worst possible outcome is for the lunatic fringe in both nations to begin to intersect, and feed off each other's hatreds.

Posted by: Ozguru at June 3, 2005 11:51 AM

People in California wonder if we are part of the United States also.

Posted by: skipjack at June 3, 2005 02:55 PM

Pete - I think the weight of the boogie board is pretty significant. I also think it is unlikely that the baggage handlers would have had a pack of drugs the right size and shape ready to hand and it would have been hard to repack it in the time they had. Both point to the fact that the drugs were in her bag before she got to the airport - still doesn't make her guilty (think "Bangkok Hilton" - the last good Nicole Kidman movie according to DF).

Posted by: Ozguru at June 3, 2005 10:09 PM

Tig - I am very aware of the drugs one because of my medication... as for the punchline for California - it was a misremembered song - Billy Joel did a "New York State of Mind". The California state of mind was actually a book not a song...
Oh well, it still fitted the comments I got from all the other tourists in California. They all said things like: "You mustn't judge America by California - it's sort of different". Pity actually because, by and large, ignoring funny politics, I liked California :-)

Posted by: Ozguru at June 3, 2005 10:14 PM