The line moved up. A young woman whose long, brown hair contrasted strikingly with the the conservatively cropped styles that prevailed around her placed two travel bags carefully onto the customs counter. She smiled a greeting at the official as he took her papers. He returned the gesture with the cautious politeness of his culture and position and began to read through the documents.
The woman tapped a combination on each bag and unzipped the waterproof seals. One interior revealed the usual tourist paraphernalia an American might be expected to carry. As the other opened, the officer’s eyebrows rose a fraction of a millimeter. An array of photographic and sound-recording equipment lay neatly in a shock-absorbent cradle.
“You are Samantha Wallingford?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Please state the reason for your visit.”
“I’m a graduate student. I plan to be doing extended field studies along the Southeast Asian coast and nearby islands. The displaced populations.”
The eyebrows went up another millimeter. “How long do you plan to stay?”
“I’m not sure, right now. At least a year. I may have to travel through several countries during that time, though. My tentative schedule is in the itinerary section.”
“Do you have a customs manifest for your apparatus?” He indicated the bag.
“Oh yes. Page four in the folder.”
The agent seemed satisfied. “You may close your luggage, now. Miss Wallingford, are those locks equipped with theft alarms?”
“Yes, they are. And motion sensors, too. Why?”
“Take care, especially near the waterfronts. This is a law-abiding country, of course. Nevertheless, there are those who still use the offshore regions with respect for little but ambition. The declared value of your manifest is approximately two years average wages in those areas. I hope you will make a point to travel with friends.”
“Thank you for the advice.” Sam smiled goodbye. “I’ll be fine.”