Reporters on the Job

No Yak Knives Allowed: During his trip to China's Shangri-La (see story), staff writer Peter Ford's Chinese interpreter bought a Tibetan sheaved knife as a present for her husband. She planned to bring it back home on their flight to Beijing. But airport security officials balked.

The knife was in her checked luggage and posed no threat to the security of the flight, she argued. Arguments that she had checked similar souvenir weapons onto international flights to the US and Russia cut no ice. Peter jumped into the fray, too, pointing out that he had a Swiss Army knife in his checked luggage. But the airport staff would not budge nor explain.

"Eventually it became clear that the problem was not the weapon on the plane," says Peter. It wasn't aircraft security but a national law. They finally learned that it's illegal to own that kind of knife or a firearm in China. It's only legal to carry such knives in areas of China where an ethnic minority uses the knives for cultural reasons. "These knives are allowed in Tibet, for example, presumably because they're used to carve up yak meat," says Peter. "But it's against the law to carry a sheathed knife or gun in Beijing. Apparently, the state doesn't see a threat in a Swiss Army knife," he notes.

– David Clark Scott

World editor

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