Freda passing the pre-breakfast temperature scan. It was worth the effort for the bacon, fried eggs, sausages, beans and real wholemeal bread...

Getting breakfast in this hotel doesn’t depend on having a voucher or room key; it depends on whether you pass the temperature scan. Before entering the dining room all adults had to put their palm up to an electronic scanner. Interestingly, nobody questioned or objected, perhaps overawed by the apparent authority of the masked ‘doctors’ (they may or may not be) clad in white jackets. One might say it’s “harmless”, but it’s the thin end of the wedge. At least we were allowed to leave the dining room unchecked, unlike a fellow award winner a tad older than us, who was pulled aside to have his blood-pressure checked. Why? Had they observed him drink too much coffee at breakfast? Are they concerned that he’ll pop his clogs mid-handshake with Wen Jiabao? It strikes me as blatant ageism mixed with the Chinese zeal for exerting power over those too intimidated to question it. It never crossed my mind to ask SAFEA (State Administration for Foreign Expert Affairs) where they had been three days prior to arriving in the hotel or whether they had had their temperature checked recently.

This may seem like a small thing to someone living in a country that accepts its citizens (or visitors who have a valid passport and visa) without having to stick a needle in them first, or extract a urine sample. China is willing to accept our contribution to “economic and cultural development” but only once we hand over all rights to privacy. From our experiences to date, we have much more likelihood of picking up a nasty illness (typhoid, TB, rabies, Jap B encephalitis, malaria, dengue fever) than bringing one here. “China has a right to protect it’s people from foreign bugs” you might say. Of course, then why not scan the children? Why pull up a man and check his blood pressure just because he looks over 60? They say they are looking after us, I say they are flexing their muscle and reminding us who’s boss. Perhaps things have changed in the UK in the last 4 years and employees to give blood etc before being offered a job. If that’s the case, do set me straight.

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