I Accidentally Broke into China

Just a few short decades ago, this would be a highly unlikely title for a blog post, and not only because blogs weren’t a thing then. I mean, who on Earth would have wanted to break in to China?

Anyway, this did happen a few years ago, with no stamps or visas, so in case you’re on the run and want to disappear into the PRC, here’s how.

Wonderful and charming

Step 1. Wait until China is hosting a major international event requiring a huge security presence (the more people involved in a task, the less the likelihood that anyone will actually have any idea what the fuck is going on). For us it was the final preparations for the Beijing Olympic games of 2008.

Step 2. Arrive stupidly early in the morning and say you don’t want to sit in that tiny holding area for several hours until they open the counters to process your your flight (travelling with an overtired miniature human tends to open doors, if you happen to have one handy). With security and maintenance swarming, 24-hour processing was several miles away in a different terminal, but we had time to kill. We opted for the 45-minute walk and thousand-mile-an-hour monorail ride.

Step 3. Boarding passes in hand, weave back to the original terminal through a bizarre maze of checkpoints… up stairs, around corners, a few elevator rides, past lots of awkwardly worded advertising… and be patted down a few more times than seems necessary. During this particular trip through Beijing airport it seemed imperative that all travellers were to be made as disoriented as possible.

Awkward, but enthusiastic!

Step 4. Start looking for the smokers’ room (don’t worry if you’re not a smoker – with any luck you won’t be able to find one… I couldn’t). I could see two of them, on the floors immediately above and below where I was standing, though because of the overwhelming security presence I was blocked from using the stairs. Having already felt like a bunch of Chinese guys had repeatedly blindfolded me, spun me round 15 times and asked me to point due North, I also hadn’t had a cigarette for about five hours and was starting to get irritated.

Later I did find a smokers’ room. The Chinese are nothing if not pragmatic.


That’s about it really. After a five minute rant to/at my wife about ‘why the hell can’t I go upstairs for a bloody cigarette?!’, a nice cleaning lady with surprisingly good English (if all the cleaning ladies in China speak English as well as her, then China is taking over the world even more rapidly than they are letting on) kindly interrupted the raving idiot, flailing his arms about in the middle of the arrivals hall, and gestured behind me.

“Excuse me sir”, she said, turning me around. “Why don’t you just go outside if you’d like to have a cigarette”.

I hadn’t the slightest inkling, and I guess the 150 security guards didn’t either, that we had somehow been manoeuvred into the arrivals hall, bypassing all of the actual security that international airports usually employ to ensure people without any visas or paperwork don’t just wander out into foreign countries.

I wandered out of the airport with my wife and daughter for some fresh air (we’d forgotten Beijing doesn’t have that) and a cigarette, and for five minutes we were undocumented illegal aliens in China. Then we went back in, fought our way back through all the security stops (it was like they were trying to keep us in there – maybe they were worried people weren’t going to turn up for their Olympics), and found our gate just in time for boarding. As airport stopovers go it was actually pretty good… it felt like a lot less than four hours anyway.

Taking off from sunny Beijing


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