From China, one of the countries with the best security in the world, to a country where “the presidential palace is equipped with anti-theft nets”, I saw many public facilities damaged by messy graffiti on the streets. I didn’t even dare to take out my camera in many places. .
This is Chile, known as “the most developed country in South America”. Those exquisite European-style buildings that still show their former glory show extreme contrast and irony in comparison with urban security issues that are extremely disproportionate to the economic situation. I did not expect that the absurd drama of canceling the APEC meeting in Chile due to demonstrations and riots four years ago still leaves traces of it today.
Traditional impressions of unfamiliar countries are often unreliable. The “China Consular Service Network” affiliated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs constantly updates travel warnings, which shows a world that is still full of turmoil, war, and is in a state of uncertainty. It is important not to be careless in exercising caution, delaying or avoiding travel to countries on the warning list. Even if you are going to a country that is not on the warning list, you should search for local news before departure to be prepared for local accidents that have just occurred. It is best to purchase travel insurance in advance, and always remember to “don’t expose your money.”
As a professional travel writer, I have extensive experience in equipment for “digital nomads”, but the writing of this article still encountered the unexpected “days of disconnection”. Originally, the ship sailing to the “Three Antarctic Islands” had free Internet provided by Starlink, so I thought about submitting the manuscript on the ship. However, shortly after seeing Antarctica, the Internet suddenly disconnected; after drifting at sea for many days, I returned to Hong Kong. The Internet was not available until later, but many things have been delayed. Of course, this is nothing compared to the following safety incidents I encountered during my travels in the past 10 years.
Wandering into danger at a Malaysian cemetery
“Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand” has always been a favorite overseas travel destination for Chinese people. Generally speaking, the societies in these three countries are relatively safe, and tourists generally do not encounter too much danger. But this is not absolute. In Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, I passed by a real risk.
The Chinese Yishan Cemetery (cemetery) located in the center of Kuala Lumpur is the burial place with the highest concentration of Chinese who have immigrated to the local area in recent hundreds of years. It is divided into Guangdong Yishan, Fujian Yishan, etc., covering a huge area, almost stretching as far as the eye can see. . The graves of almost all famous figures in local Chinese history can be found there.
Except for public festivals such as Qingming Festival, most of the time in the year, there are almost no people in the entire Chinese Yishan area. In the center of an international city like Kuala Lumpur, there is such a large space dedicated to the deceased. This is the main reason that attracted me to come here. I spent an afternoon wandering around the nearby Yishan Mountains and carefully reading the epitaphs that embody the entire history of the Chinese in Kuala Lumpur. At that time, I didn’t feel any unsafe in this peaceful environment.
It wasn’t until it was getting dark and I was about to leave Yishan that I noticed something was wrong: in front of a tombstone, several people who looked obviously not Chinese seemed to be smoking and chatting in a low voice, while several people parked next to it. motorcycle. I don’t know what they are doing here. Although some ethnic groups are not as taboo about graves as the Chinese, there seems to be no need to go to the graves of foreigners to chat.
At first, I didn’t think much about this strange scene, thinking it was just a coincidence, until I met another Chinese lady who said that she was entrusted to maintain the tomb. “Get out of here!” She shouted at me in horror when she learned that I was just a Chinese tourist here. She pointed in the direction just now and asked in a low voice: “Have you seen those people? Do you know what they are doing?”
I said I knew nothing. She sighed and told me the real reason why the foreigners appeared in the Chinese cemetery – they were dealing drugs at dusk. “If you let them see it, and you are a foreigner and don’t speak Malay, there will definitely be misunderstandings. At least you will be robbed, at worst… well… it is a very bad thing. You Go quickly, go quickly!”
The SUV suddenly stopped. Under the weak illumination of my car lights, I saw the left and right car doors opening at the same time. Two armed men got out of the car with their own rifles and pistols and walked toward me. And their faces had the kind of coldness that belongs exclusively to soldiers.
I never thought that in Kuala Lumpur, which is considered safe, in this quiet Chinese cemetery, there is actually a drug trade that only exists in TV dramas in China. I thanked her and ran towards the entrance of the cemetery in terror. I left there in a few minutes as fast as I could. And in those few minutes, I saw several motorcycles entering the cemetery carrying people who were also obviously not Chinese.
Encounter with gunman late at night in Belarus
In 2018, I took a cross-country self-driving trip in Europe. At that time, Belarus had not yet exempted Chinese citizens from visas, but thanks to Russia’s preferential policy during the 2018 World Cup that “holders of football tickets can enter without a visa and can transit through Belarus”, I temporarily decided to switch from Lithuania to a country I had never planned before. Belarus to visit.
Pro-Russian Belarus has always had sensitive relations with other European countries, so when I drove into Belarus, I encountered particularly careful inspections. At that time, the visa-free policy for the World Cup had just been released, and it took more than five hours for the border inspector to figure out why I could enter the country without a visa, wait for him to ask for instructions, and finally complete all the procedures. When I officially entered Belarus, it was already past 10 o’clock in the evening.
Initially, my plan was to find a safe spot near the border and spend the night in the car. This was my usual method in Europe, but the darkness of the night made this idea impossible. After leaving the EU, my mobile phone no longer has signal, and I cannot temporarily find and book nearby accommodation. In desperation, I had no choice but to drive to the B&B where I planned to stay the next day, hoping that the owner could still receive guests.
The road you need to pass to get there is located near the border between Belarus and Lithuania. It was not only the point of tense confrontation between NATO and the “Russian-Belarusian Alliance”, but it was also one of the most common illegal transit points for refugees in the then- ascendant “European Refugee Wave.” At first, there was not a single car on the road late at night, but soon I discovered that there was an off-road vehicle following me leisurely.
After a while, the car rushed up and forced me to stop. There were no obvious markings on the car, and even though the two armed men who got out of the car were wearing camouflage uniforms, I could not identify them. The young man among them spoke a little English. I explained to him that I was a newly arrived tourist and was looking for a booked B&B, and showed him the coordinates on the map.
”Follow me,” he said coldly. I had no idea where they were taking me, but going with them was my only option at the time. The SUV took me further along the road until they suddenly turned left onto a muddy dirt road. I don’t know why they entered this almost impassable path, and after continuing to drive for a while, the road became completely muddy and impassable, and it seemed that they had reached the end of the entire road.
At this moment, the off-road vehicle suddenly stopped. Under the weak illumination of my car lights, I saw the left and right car doors opening at the same time. Two armed men got out of the car with their own rifles and pistols and walked toward me. And their faces had the kind of coldness that belongs exclusively to soldiers.
If I have had a few “death” moments while traveling, this was definitely one of them. Time seemed to stand still at that moment, I didn’t know what they wanted to do, there was just a blank in my mind. On this road that was so muddy that the car could get stuck at any time, it was completely impossible to turn around or reverse the car to escape. And at this short distance, they could kill me immediately with just one bullet.
”Sir, sir!” The sound of the young man knocking on the car window brought me back to reality. He did not raise a gun at me, but said in a somewhat guilty tone: “I’m so sorry, we can’t find the place you mentioned. “Until this moment, I realized that they just wanted to take me to that B&B. At this time, I also saw clearly the uniform he was wearing – they were regular Belarusian border guards, not unknown armed elements. My hanging heart was finally relieved.
I asked them to recommend other places to stay nearby, and they then took me to a resort that I couldn’t find online and seemed to be known only to locals. When I drove the next day to look for the B&B I had booked, I discovered that the muddy path they took me to the day before was the right one. Just drive a little further and you would find the B&B.
The teeth-gnashing black policeman
In many countries, trouble for tourists may not only come from criminals, but also from sanctimonious government officials. This story also happened during my cross-country self-driving in 2018. At that time, I had just visited Morocco and planned to drive across the border into Ceuta, an enclave also located in Africa but under Spanish jurisdiction, and take a boat back to the European continent from there.
Only a dozen kilometers away from the border, two policemen hiding on the side of the road stopped the car in front of me as I was driving closely behind it. After a few simple conversations, the policeman waved to the car in front to leave, but then walked towards my car.
”Passport and driver’s license,” a policeman said to me in English. Thinking it was just a routine border check, I handed him the document without any suspicion. He got my ID, but continued: “You were speeding. This is a city, the speed limit is 60, and you drove 72.” Under the serious expression, there was an imperceptible smile on the corner of his mouth.
There was just over an hour left before the last ferry of the day departed from Ceuta to mainland Europe. Including the transit time, if I don’t pay the fine immediately, get my documents back and leave, it means that I may have to stay in Morocco or Ceuta for an extra night.
I followed his lead and drove to the side of the road, and then tried to question the basis of his punishment – I had just been driving closely behind the car in front of me, why was I the only one speeding and not it? Unexpectedly, at this time, the policeman seemed to have suddenly changed. He could not speak a word of English after he had just explained clearly. He pretended not to understand all my questions: “Either Arabic or French, this is Morocco!” He said to me in a contemptuous tone. Then, he gave me a “ticket” written in Arabic. The only thing I could understand was what was written on it: 300 dirhams. “Pay the money,” he said to me.
Just as I was racking my brains to figure out how to explain to him and eliminate this misunderstanding, I discovered that more cars behind me were being led by his companions to the roadside where we were. Interestingly, these cars all have the same characteristic: they all have foreign license plates. I looked at my watch and saw that there was only more than an hour left before the last ferry of the day departed from Ceuta to the European continent. Including the transit time, if I don’t pay the fine immediately, get my documents back and leave, it means that I may have to stay in Morocco or Ceuta for an extra night. And this should be the reason why they concentrated on stopping vehicles with foreign license plates at this time and unscrupulously demanded fines.
I had to pay a fine equivalent to 200 yuan, get my documents back, and finally catch the last boat back to Europe that day. And something more interesting happened later: According to the Moroccan law I found, in order to avoid corruption, fines should be paid directly to the government’s bank account after receiving the ticket. So, I took a closer look at the “ticket” in my hand and found that it contained neither my identity, license plate information nor my remittance bank account number. In other words, all the “fine” we pay in cash actually goes into the pockets of those police officers.
Suspected of being infected with COVID-19, very anxious
Risks encountered during travel also include physical health problems, and due to a lack of understanding of local medical institutions, it is often difficult to obtain similar results when seeking medical treatment overseas as when seeking treatment at home. And if you are infected with an unknown infectious disease, it is the worst possibility.
In February 2020, when the new coronavirus epidemic broke out in Wuhan in China and many countries around the world adopted restrictive measures on people entering from China, I had already planned an interview mission to the United States, and the United States restricted immigrants who must leave China for 14 years. It was only 14 days before I could enter the country. As a last resort, I had no choice but to go to Europe first, planning to wait until 14 days after leaving China before going to the United States.
My first stop in Europe was Romania. A cold wave had just invaded there, and at this time I also coughed “at the right time”. Normally, no one would care about a cough after cooling down. However, I had just left China at that time. Although there was no serious epidemic in our domestic city at the time, no one dared to say that they were absolutely safe. At the same time, I still felt that I had a fever, but when I bought a thermometer, it only measured normal body temperature, and I began to suspect that there was something wrong with the thermometer. After hearing about the severe symptoms of SARS in my childhood, I became more and more suspicious that I was infected with COVID-19.
I lay in the hotel room for two days, feeling that my symptoms were getting worse. I finally plucked up the courage to go to a local private hospital with a good reputation. When the doctor heard that I had just left China and that my self-reported symptoms were so similar to those of COVID-19, he immediately politely asked me to go to the National Center for Infectious Diseases, the designated hospital in Romania to treat COVID-19.
Compared with the neat and bright private hospital, this most central infectious disease research and treatment institution in Romania is so dilapidated that it is difficult to believe that it is in an EU country with a middle-income level. There are no clear guidelines for the treatment of suspected COVID-19 patients. After many inquiries, I was directed to the responsible department: the infectious disease laboratory. There were no strict isolation measures, and the staff even calmly returned to the room and put on protective clothing after hearing me face to face about my experience of suspecting that I was infected with the new coronavirus.
I was there from morning until night, and countless people came and went in front of me, a “suspected COVID-19 patient,” including some patients who seemed to have obvious symptoms, which made me even more panicked as I was only wearing an N95 mask.
He took a cotton swab and moved it around my nose and mouth several times (I didn’t know at the time that this was a “nucleic acid test”), and then asked me to wait at the seat at the door. I was there from morning until night, and countless people came and went in front of me, a “suspected COVID-19 patient,” including some patients who seemed to have obvious symptoms, which made me even more panicked as I was only wearing an N95 mask. It wasn’t until the evening that I got their test report, which showed that the nucleic acid tests for COVID-19, influenza and other viruses were negative. I was relieved.
The strange thing is that when we returned to the hotel, those strange feelings disappeared automatically! This proves that my previous doubts about my illness were just my own psychological hints amid the overwhelming news related to the new coronavirus in China. However, a day’s close observation of Romania’s National Center for Infectious Diseases made me vaguely doubtful: Can such a crude institution and such perfunctory staff really be able to cope with the invading coronavirus?
Just a month later, the new coronavirus began to rage in Europe. Unlike the virus which was controlled in a short period of time in China, the epidemic in Europe has continued repeatedly for several years. Judging from what has been observed in Romania, this is almost inevitable.