Tuesday, June 3, 2014

I Can Tell By The Pixels, I've Seen A Lot Of Exit Visas In My Time

[Slightly edited for clarity.]

You have a lot of official papers and cards and documents in your life, but some are more critical to your life than others, and most will have a time when you really need them. This is why identity theft is so damaging. A library card would suck to lose at the wrong time, but it's nothing that can't be replaced. A discount card at the grocery store, oh well. Your credit card, your driver's license, your Social Security card, though? Those are the documents that cause panic when you even so much as forget what room you left them in before you head out the door.

Your passport is also one of these documents. Mere possession of one marks a person in society's eyes as somehow more cultured than someone without. It's a status symbol, regardless of how common or uncommon it is in a society. Unless you're actually traveling, it's rather benign, but when you are abroad or attempting to get there, it is the single most important document you have. It determines whether you get to travel at all, or even more importantly, whether you get to go home. A handful of Amazing Race teams have been disqualified because they'd lost theirs, and you can't continue a race around the world if you can't leave the country you're in. Some more oppressive nations over the years have required passports to travel within the nation- South Africa, the Confederacy, modern-day Russia (a holdover from the Soviet Union), a form of it today in China.

Got all that? Got how important that passport is?

Now let's discuss this. Do not get used to this picture; we'll be tearing it to shreds very shortly.

(source: Weibo, via Telegraph)

According to the story- and please take that qualifier into account; we'll be coming back to it in a moment-a Chinese tourist to South Korea, who you may note looks to have had his name scribbled out, allowed his 4-year-old son to do this to his passport. Both his main face and the blue silhouette face have had their eyes drawn over; they have beards now and new hairstyles and there's a new person in the middle alongside what I'm going to take to be a teddy bear. There's a flower or perhaps more, a birdie, I... think those are clouds? Whatever all of it is, it takes the place of things such as faces and text to the point where customs officials would not accept it as a valid passport anymore and barred the man and his son from leaving South Korea.

At least, this is the story. The story, upon closer examination, falls apart. The source of the photo is Weibo, but the story was originally reported by Xinhua, which is state-run by China, and as such there are people calling BS on it right from the get-go, which is a very wise thing to do in general. All the marks that would easily identify who this is have been obliterated, although that by itself isn't necessarily a disqualifier. The name of the man has alternately been reported as Chen and Zhang. That's much more concerning. Kotaku, though, examining the scribbles, brings the hammer down. They note that a 4-year-old would probably have smudged somewhere (it's laminated), or had lines of varying thickness. They also probably couldn't draw a flower like the one in the lower-right; the lines are too good and the turns too tight. To them, this looks more like an MS Paint scribble... that is also flat like an MS Paint surface, unlike the photo itself, which is on an angle. And also there's one point- you see that one part in the upper right, looks like a gun barrel maybe? Not all of that is actual passport. Some of that is the surface the passport was laid on, and the 'pen' marks jut off the passport and onto the surface.

The conclusion: someone has almost certainly made stuff up for a laugh.

The moral of the story is supposed to be to take extra special care of your passport. And surely that's a fine moral. But as far as that care goes, perhaps the better moral is to just make sure you don't lose it entirely. The intended moral of not letting your 4-year-old near it? Well, people who would have a passport already probably are smart enough to avoid that.

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