The war against cheese is on

Yesterday I mentioned rumors of a new anti-cheese crackdown at China's ports of entry. Now this chilling confirmation from a reader:

I also live in Beijing, and, like you, I tend to bring back cheese with me from my trips out of the country. But recently, while traveling back from Spain right after Chinese New Year, I, too, encountered the beagle brigade. Having never seen them before we weren't sure if they were after drugs or food, but when one came to our cart as we waited for our luggage at the carousel and sat down, we knew it was a "food beagle". The agent asked us if we had "food", to which I ventured a meek "yes, a bit", and he asked to see our bag. As it happens, all that we had at that point was our carry on baggage and one suitcase, with our remaining suitcase--the one containing several kilos of ham, chorizo, and cheese--revolved around the carousel, but among our carry ons was a duty free bad from Barcelona airport that contained one wheel of cheese and some turron. The agent confiscated the cheese without a word of explanation, and then asked if there was anything else. We volunteered the turron, but that was not an issue, and then he asked me to open my camera bag. When that proved to have no contraband they moved on, we grabbed the remaining suitcase off the carousel and high-tailed it out of there. But before we got too far, a Chinese guy who had seen the episode told us that there is now a ban on importing dairy products, though why that was the case--and why the agent did not explain it to us--is a mystery.

I have heard stories about other people bringing cheese who had their kids play with the beagle to distract it, and I know of someone else who managed to bring in quite a bit of NZ cheese a few weeks ago, so implementation of the new rule is--surprise!!--sporadic.

The crucial word here is of course "mystery." (Second-crucial word is "sporadic.") Maybe China could be cracking down on imported dairy products because of its own recent tainted-milk scandals. Except, that would make no sense at all. (So, your own country's milk supply is questionable, and the rest of the world makes this stuff in abundance and without quality problems; plus, you have a gigantic trade surplus. So.... suddenly it's important to keep foreign cheese out??) In any case, I will scratch off "load up on cheese!" from the last-minute list of items to cram into the suitcase on my way to the airport. Coffee is still on the list, though. And if only good beer came in freeze-dried form....

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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