A few years ago, I went to Goroka, Papua New Guinea, to recover two Kamov Helicopters on behalf of a client/friend from Sakhalin Island, Russia (man, I loved writing that sentence!). I flew from Seattle to Honolulu, from Honolulu to Sydney, Australia, from Sydney to Cairns, from Cairns to Port Moresby, and from Port Moresby to Goroka. And then, after negotiating the helicopters back, the same return trip. Papua New Guinea is said to have a “cargo culture” in which the natives treat outsiders better than natives. That certainly seemed true for me.

I went to the grocery store (and when I say “the” I mean the only) one day and saw all of the locals get searched by rifle toting security guards both when entering and leaving the store. I came and went untouched. The same thing happened at the airports. The locals would have their bags opened and rummaged through, while my bags were never opened. I was scheduled to leave Goroka to return to Australia on a Wednesday but the plane (again, “the” means “the only”) plane did not arrive. Without my having to do a thing, I was given a front row seat for the next day’s flight.

The weight limit for carry-ons was 8 kg and a local right in front of me was stopped by a stewardess for trying to bring on a small bag and told, “You no go on de plane wit dat.” Me, I wanted to be sure I made my connecting flight from Goroka and I was let through without question, toting a bag that must have weighed at least 15 kg. Ah, the joys of being a foreigner.

There can be a bit of that in China as well, though I have always viewed it as somewhat of a more double edged sword there. Lucy Hornby, on her Reuters sponsored Countdown to Beijing blog just did a great post, entitled, “Being a foreigner, the ticket to privilege?” (h/t to All Roads Lead to China).

Ms. Hornby starts out by revealing how easy it was for her, as a foreigner, to get tickets to the Beijing Olympics:

I did this entirely legally. I want lots of guests to crash at my apartment in August, and see this huge moment for China. So when the first round of the ticket lottery opened, I filled out the online forms, met all the deadlines, and picked the maximum number of tickets — mostly for semi-final events where I thought I would have a better shot.

The tickets aren’t just for guests of course. I myself can’t wait to sit in the stands for at least one competition, and soak up the excitement. But I didn’t even bother to apply for the Opening Ceremony — I knew I had no chance, and anyway, applicants were limited to one ticket only. Who wants to be all alone in a crowd?
I got about three-fifths of the events I wanted, or 17 tickets for six events. That puts me among only 5 percent of Olympics tickets applicants, according to a membership survey by the American Chamber of Commerce.

Most Chinese I’ve told say the decks were stacked in my favor. “Of course you got tickets, you’re a foreigner” was the first reaction from my colleagues, taxi drivers, and anyone else I told.

An informal survey revealed many of them had given up halfway through the lottery process, which I also thought was a little daunting. Or they only applied for the opening and closing ceremonies. Or only popular weekend events. But still. Their reaction also shows how much Chinese citizens assume that the system will never work in their favor.

Hornby then notes how many former foreigner privileges are now being given to all who are wealthy, foreign or not:

Fast forward 13 years, and most of the privileges of being foreign, versus being Chinese, have morphed into being wealthy versus not. It’s pretty easy to get train tickets nowadays, if you book through an agency for a small fee, but the migrant workers still wait for days in line at the station.

What do you think?

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Dan Harris

I am a founder of Harris Bricken, an international law firm with lawyers in Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, China and Spain.

I mostly represent companies doing business in emerging market countries. It has taken me many years to build my network and it takes constant communication and travel to maintain it. My work has been as varied as securing the release of two improperly held helicopters in Papua New Guinea, setting up a legal framework to move slag from Canada to Poland’s interior, overseeing hundreds of litigation and arbitration matters in Korea, helping someone avoid terrorism charges in Japan, and seizing fish product in China to collect on a debt.

I was named as one of only three Washington State Amazing Lawyers in International Law, I am AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory (its highest rating), I am rated 10.0 by AVVO.com (its highest rating), and I am a SuperLawyer.

I am a frequent writer and public speaker on doing business in Asia and I constantly travel between the United States and Asia. I most commonly speak on China law issues and I am the lead writer of the award winning China Law Blog (www.chinalawblog.com). Forbes Magazine, Fortune Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, Business Week, The National Law Journal, The Washington Post, The ABA Journal, The Economist, Newsweek, NPR, The New York Times and Inside Counsel have all interviewed me regarding various aspects of my international law practice.

I am licensed in Washington, Illinois, and Alaska.

In tandem with the international law team at my firm, I focus on setting up/registering companies overseas (via WFOEs, Rep Offices or Joint Ventures), drafting international contracts (NDAs, OEM Agreements, licensing, distribution, etc.), protecting IP (trademarks, trade secrets, copyrights and patents), and overseeing M&A transactions.