My sister’s backpacking all over southeast Asia this summer and I meet her at the Beijing airport a couple days ago. We’re gonna hit Tiananmen Square and the cheap parts of the Forbidden City before heading to Tianjin. The problem is she’s got two of her boyfriend’s souvenirs (thanks, Josh!) in her backpack: a lighter that looks like a handgun and brass knuckles. This means that we’re going to — unavoidably — test multiple security scanner checkpoints between the airport and home: the Beijing airport express train, the Beijing subway, Tiananmen Square and the Beijing South Train Station.
The Beijing Airport Express Train
We walk out of Terminal 3 toward the platform for the Airport Express, which connects to the Beijing subway. A friendly young woman who looks like a recent college grad motions for us to put our backpacks through the scanner. Turns out that gun looks fantastic on the scanner screens.
“You have a gun in your bag,” she says, turning the screen toward me.
“It’s just a lighter.”
“OK,” she motions us on. No inspection, and nothing about the brass knuckles. Those express train passengers are lucky we didn’t decide to go postal on them.
Beijing Subway: Dōngzhímén (东直门)
They make us scan our bags to enter the subway. No one says anything. We pick up our packs and move on, hoping that the stifling rush hour subway crowds don’t trigger our claustrophobia in a bad way.
We exit the subway and head down the underpass to enter Tiananmen Square. Finally some security that cares! :) They immediately spot the gun and the brass knuckles, don’t feel like taking my word for it that it’s just a lighter, make us take them both out for examination, and temporarily confiscate the brass knuckles. No Canadians will be hauling off on anyone in Tiananmen Square today, at least not these Canadians.
We leave the Square to find lunch and re-enter at a different checkpoint, the gun is still in my sister’s backpack. They catch it again and make us take it out for inspection before letting us repack and continue on.
Beijing Subway: Tiānānmén Dōng (天安门东)
We return to the original checkpoint to pick up the confiscated brass knuckles on our way out of the Square. Then we enter the Tiananmen East subway station. Scanned again, ignored again, and we’re on our merry way.
Beijing South Train Station
Honestly can’t remember if we had to scan our bags entering Beijing South Station from the subway or not. We didn’t get searched, in either case.
We have to do it again when I take her from Tianjin to the Beijing airport, which means going through the high speed train, Beijing subway, airport security checkpoints. After that we’ll wait and see what Canada customs does…
[Update: Aug. 12]
On the way to the Beijing airport from Tianjin we’d made the gun and brass knuckles easily accessible, thinking we’d need to take them out for inspection.
Tianjin Train Station
Scanned again. Ignored yet again. Had to fight through some overly-anxious fellow travelers who were nervous about leaving their bags on the conveyor belt a split second longer than they had to.
Beijing South Train Station subway entrance
It looked like they were staring at the screen, but nobody blinked and we sailed right through.
But even with the apparent holes in Tianjin and Beijing’s subway and train security, I have to say it’s a lot tighter than what I remember of the security on Vancouver’s Skytrain, where you can walk right on without paying. But to be fair to the Skytrain, we did see the security in action last time we were in Vancouver and it seemed to work pretty well.