A Shanghai surprise for Jarred Christmas

© Rob Greig
Posted: Thu May 26 2011

The Kiwi compere of our 'Laugh Out Loud' shows, Jarred Christmas, tells of his sticky run-in with China's airport security.

What I love about stand-up is it can take you all over the world and provide you with the opportunity to meet all kinds of people. I like to call the following story 'Big Trouble in Big China'.

I was born in New Zealand but moved to the UK in 2000. I have both NZ and British passports, so I left New Zealand on my Kiwi passport and arrived in the UK on my British one. This was way back before Bin Laden did the old pilot switcheroo trick. (He's dead now. Buried at sea like Megatron was in the Transformers film.) These were the days when you could just flash your passport at a bored customs employee as you walked past them. Back when Britney had a hit with 'Oops!… I Did It Again', which is exactly what went through my brain when I felt an awakening downtown as I pictured Britney in that red Lycra one-piece. YouTube it, Google it. It's hot and sad at the same time. The perfect combo. Like a sunburnt clown.

Fast forward four years and I'm getting ready to fly out to China for some stand-up gigs. I did some research and found out that it was £10 cheaper to get a Chinese visa on my Kiwi passport than on my British one. I don't know why. Maybe it's because us Kiwis are such nice folk that they gave us a discount. So that's what I did: I got my visa on my Kiwi passport, left the UK on my British and then entered China on my New Zealand. All fine. When it came to leaving China it was a totally different story…

At customs, the officer looked through my Kiwi passport. There was a stamp saying I left the country in 2000, but here I am in China four years later. Now, I've been on many long-hauls, but a four-year flight? That would be a bitch-load of jetlag. Obviously Mr Customs Fellow got a bit concerned and started talking sternly to me in Chinese. I don't speak Chinese. I don't even know what the Chinese is for 'chow mein'.

He got more serious. I started to panic and that's when a man holding a gun rocked up. Gun guy and customs fellow conversed in Chinese (sternly, of course). I was solely focused on not shitting my pants. I don't know why it is that when you're scared you suddenly have to poo. I guess it's a 'fight or flight' thing. Your bowels think they're helping you out by lightening the load for a quicker getaway, perhaps…

Panic then arrived along with his two close buddies, Fear and Jelly Knees. My butt clenched as tight as possible as I pictured myself in a Chinese prison. Gun guy then turned to me but didn't bother with being stern. He went straight to fuckin' furious, shouting and spitting. I started to sweat from every pore in my body as I let a whimper escape from my panicridden face. Obviously this caused quite a scene. Another Chinese official came over. This one had glasses, a neat haircut and looked as official as you possibly can. He was the epitome of official. So official he would be able to get into any event/concert/funeral just because he looked so damn official. It's official, he looked official. He looked like he controlled shit. Which I was struggling to do at the time. Very calmly he asked me, in English, 'Do you have another passport?' I was in such a panic for a split second I thought I understood Chinese. I said, 'Y-yes.' I don't usually stammer but I think in this situation it was understandable. I handed over my British passport and he enquired, 'Why are you travelling on two passports?'

It was at this moment that I realised being a tightarse is not all it's cracked up to be. Fuck the savings, I want to live! I had to admit to the most cheap, petty thing I've ever done in my life: 'It was £10 cheaper to get a visa on my New Zealand passport.' How embarrassing. My stupid attempt at trying to save some money had landed me in the scariest situation of my life. I saved £10 but very nearly shat my pants at Shanghai airport. But it turns out the Chinese are quite frugal people. The official replied, 'I understand your desire to get a bargain, but you should only travel on one passport.' Quite right.

My job as a comedian has taken me to many amazing places. Being a tightarse almost got me locked up in China. I've recounted this tale to many other comics. Their response is always, 'Okay, but how did the gigs go?' That's what I love about standups: It doesn't matter if your life almost ended, the most important thing is the gig itself. And that, to me, is what it means to be a comedian. No matter what happens on the way to the gig, or on the way home, as long as you're funny it's all worth it.