The Ears Have It
Much of the work done by Special Branch involved liaison with the Immigration Department and when I was first posted to the branch the section I worked for resembled a post office more than a branch office of the police.
In this section, we were responsible for carrying out security checks on visa applicants from all over the world. Of particular interest to the government were applications from residents of Taiwan.
In 1949 when the communists took over the mainland the Kuomintang (KMT) government fled to Taiwan. Following that, KMT factions infiltrated Hong Kong and went underground, storing up arms and explosive caches around the territory. In many ways, they were far more dangerous than the communists. Eventually, in the fifties, they were all rounded up and deported to Taiwan, and one of our jobs was to make sure they damn well stayed there.
There had been some very embarrassing incidents for the government where pro- KMT activists had arrived in Hong Kong on a tourist visa and then given public press conferences on the evils of communism. The PRC complained bitterly that the government of Hong Kong was allowing this to happen, and it became a sore point. It was no surprise to me then when I was told to err on the side of caution when handling Taiwanese visa applications.
After a few years, my immediate boss went on vacation and I was considered experienced enough to take up her post in an acting capacity. It was during this time that we received an application from a Mr. Tso, a resident of Taipei who wanted to visit Hong Kong. Unfortunately for Mr. Tso, a check revealed that he resembled a person who had been deported in 1951. There was very little to go on, but his date of birth and that of the deportee were both circa 1930, and both persons were born in Hong Kong. There was no identity card number or address with which to positively identify him or otherwise.
Ever mindful of my instructions to ‘err on the side of caution,’ I wracked my brains trying to identify him and eventually went to the office of a helpful Woman Chief Inspector (WCIP). Together we pored over the application and the check trace.
Still nothing. At this point in my career chances for promotion were slim owing to downsizing and I didn’t want to be part of the outflow, so I was determined to do everything in my power to ensure that this application was handled correctly. It was then that the WCIP noticed the man’s ears.
Now, it is a fact that as we go through life our facial features change: we lose hair and teeth, break our nose etc., but, one thing that rarely changes is the shape of our ears. Both the person in the application and the person shown on the trace had a distinctive nodule on the left ear. The ears were identical!
Still not totally convinced that they were one and the same, but certain that I had just cause, I got out my red pen and wrote: Security Objection on the application, returned it to the relevant section with a sigh of relief, and forgot all about it.
Until three months later, that is, when the section Number Two called me in. Friendly as ever, he asked me if I could recall handling a Taiwanese visa application a few months ago.
My heart sank. Although I had handled more than a dozen I knew it had to be Mr. Tso, and it was. The Number Two asked me if I could remember why I had raised the objection, and I mumbled something about having had so much work through at the time I couldn’t recall this particular case. One thing was certain: while I didn’t want to be dismissed for allowing a KMT activist into the territory, I also didn’t want a black mark noted in my record of service stating that I had raised an objection based on the shape of his ears.
No problem, said the Number Two. “I’m going to override your objection. Please don’t think that this reflects upon you, I am sure that you acted in the best interests of the Branch.
As I was leaving he said to me, “We must remember, especially with these old buggers from Taiwan, to give them a bit of leeway, okay?”
And I said, “Okay”.
Copyright John Stewart Sloan – 2007 – Not for Publication