Learning Uruguay

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Archive for August, 2007

Getting Dedicado

Posted by urufish on August 27, 2007


Called Dedicado and ordered the 512/512 service last Monday.  The salesman said it will be installed 72 hours after we sign the contract.  They sent the contract over for signature that night.  I expected it to be installed nlt Thursday.  I was wrong.

Installations called on Friday and told us the contract was no good and we had to sign a new one.  When they wrote the original contract on Monday, they wrote in the wrong speeds.  When I signed the contract, I changed the field to 512/512 and initialed it.  In Urugyay, you cant change a contract… You cant initial something.  It has to be rewritten, by the supplier.  Urguay is a little anal (perhaps a little behind the times too), that way. 

I told the installations guy that you dont call a customer 24 hours after you’re supposed to install something to tell them you need to redo the contract.  He assured me if I signed Saturday, the installation would be done Monday.  I believed him.  Stupid me. 

Today we called and asked where the installation crew was.  They said they’d check and call us back.  Normally, I wouldn’t believe this but the Movistar guy had called me back he next day so I figured maybe I was on a roll.  No such luck.  Came 5pm, still nothing so we called in.  With the same information we first called in with (the contract number–they dont have a name or address search), they happily told us our installation was set for Wednesday morning.  I asked what happaned to Monday’s installation.  They said there never was a Monday installation.  I thanked them and said goodbye.

So goes our 72 hour quest for Dedicado service.  I wonder what will happen on Wednesday.  I went up on the roof of our house to see if I could see a tower from here.  We have a 3 story house surrounded by 11 story apartment buildings.  But I did see another house about a block away shooting up Scoseria so I hope we can use that angle.  If not, we will have wasted 10 days for nothing.  Then my only choice will be a 2nd Antedata connection.  Not looking forward to that. 

Update Wednesday morning:  Well, Dedicado showed up while I was in the shower.  I told my wife to tell them to bring it in through the window of my office.  I asked her to ask them if they could get line of site to a Dedicado xmitter and she said they already said they had that figured out.  I finished my shower and went upstairs to check on the guys.  They had already installed the radio.  Turns out there’s a Dedicado tower sitting on one of those apartment buildings that surround me.  Turns out this was the best canyon to be stuck in–200m, uninterrupted view.  

The cable installation didn’t work out as well.  I asked the guy to drill it through the wall, just below my desk.  When he came out the other side, he drilled through a sewer vent, phew.  My office never smelled so delicate before.  I told him to drill another hole to the right of the previous one, 6cm.  He drilled it 20cm.  Oh well.  Sometime this weekend we’ll fix it up.  Plugged both holes for now.  Smell has gone away.  You wonder why techs dont measure out distances before they drill here, but that’s the way it usually is here. 

At the end we measured speed.  I ran a dozen tests spread over a 30 minute period.  Got what we paid for.  The connection will support 3 or 4 simultaneous VoIP connections..  More than sufficient for my needs.  Sometime later this week, we’ll get the VPN going, (we use a pre-IPX NEC so it’s got some quirky requirements.. like it needs dozens of ports to function).  Cant wait for my extension to start ringing.  I used to be the only person in teh company without V-mail.  Hope to continue that wonderful tradition. 

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Working from Uruguay

Posted by urufish on August 26, 2007


Several years ago, it was practically speaking impossible to do your job remotely.  I know, I tried.   Starting in the early 80’s for 3 weeks at Christmas I would try everything possible to be able to work when I was here on holidays.  Dont get me wrong.  I wasn’t (and am still not),  a dyed in the wool workaholic.  I’m just very practical.  My work is done by me.  No one else.  When I get after 3 weeks out of the office, there is 240 hours of work to catch up on.  Try fitting that into a 168 hour week.  If I was lucky, in the 80’s I’d be caught up by the middle of February. 

In the 90’s things started to improve.  I could receive calls on my cellphone.   That didn’t reduce the work built up while I was gone, but I could solve major problems myself, so there wouldn’t be a mess to clean up when I got back.  Once, because I was on a plane, our main supplier ‘corrected’ a problem while I was in the air.  The correction involved taking apart everything I’d carefully put together, which of course, I had to put back together again on my return. 

When faxing became reliable in Piriapolis (my refugio), I began asking staff to summarize the previous days events and questions and faxt them to me each morning.  I would hand write responses and fax them back at 4pm.  Worked pretty good.  Cut down my backlog nicely.   Could be caught up by end of January. 

Of course, by the mid 90’s I had computing power on top of San Antonio… no more handwriting responses.  When the internet hit Uruguay, I thought I had been saved.  I was able to respond to emails every day.  The backlog got less.  By the early 2000’s, in many areas, it was as if I hadn’t left.  I even took to NOT turning on the vacation auto-reply.  I could respond to most emails within a few hours since I was around the house most of the time. 

But until the past 2 or 3 years, to actually do the job full time from here, was impossible.  In my situation, the critical components are reliablility, consistancy and cost-effectiveness of:  

1.  Voice communication.  Working in a large corporation means being available at your extension (your REAL extension) during business hours.  Conversations have to have the same quality.  You cant have dropouts, static or clipping.  If someone calls you or you call someone from up north, it has to be the same exprience, identical. 

2.  Data.  Same requirements as above.. Your screen efficiency must be identical to what it would be if you were sitting at your desk in your office up north.  Same access.  Same productivity. 

3.  Reachability.  If you’re lucky, your job involves time out of the office.  If you’re not so lucky, it also involves in being reached after hours.  Your reachability has to be equal to someone working up north. 

Fortunately, these 3 things are now very close to being idential to how they are up north.  

Voice:  In the past several years, VoIP has gone from a great idea to a solid technology.  I’m not really talking Vonage.  I’m talking corporate America’s adoption of IP telephony.  Major players like Nortel, Siemens, NEC, AT&T have IPX’s now (Internet based private exchanges).   Staff take their desktop phone with them (or their code – like a domain) from office to office in the same city, or across the country or across the world.  Plug your IP phone into any broadband connection and you have your extension, wherever you are.  You can even have a wireless extension.  Older PBX’s have IP adaptors that your comm people can hang for  you, sitting on an analog extension, so you can still have an IP extension even if your company uses an old style PBX.  If you can do your job with a simple one line extension, you can go Vonage or dozens of different other providers to choose from. 

Data:  Years ago, we had all sorts of remote control software.  But overhead was awful.  I tried to use a few with my ‘straw’ connection here in Uruguay and it was disastrous.  Yes, you could look at and even work on a spreadsheet.  But you’d be at wits end trying to work on 3 or 4 per day.  Productivity (bandwidth/reliability) wasn’t there yet.  In the past few years, the reliability factor has gone way up.  The lines back to North America are stable.  Trip times are often down below 400ms.  And they are consistant – with some exceptions.  Quality of service has gone way up (thanks to VoIP requirements).  Microsoft’s Terminal Services products (called Remote Desktop to the public) are rock solid and work almost as fast as the real thing.  You have to be a real power user to notice the difference between navigating your work desktop and the one here.  A very simple and almost cost free solution for a remote employee working out of Uruguay is to connect to one’s desktop back at the office from your laptop/desktop here and run a TS session.  There are all sorts of advantages to this..  Citrix is not needed.  But you can use it if you want.  Cost… nothing.  Comes with the XP license.  Once you have a fast, reliable connection to your desktop back up North, it’s obvious you have the same access you have sitting at your office several thousand miles north.  Our whole international organization is based on this technology.  We use it from Canada, the US, Chile and now from Uruguay.  Works perfectly. 

To get reliability and consistancy, you need to use 2 different backbones, 2 different suppliers for your internet connection.  Fortunately, Uruguay has this.  Anteldata and Dedicado.  The first uses Antel’s modern network.  The 2nd uses Telefonica’s impressive South American and worldwide facilities.  Both are good, but Dedicado gets the edge because they provide symetric connectivity.  For data and voice needs, 512kb in each direction for U$S75/mo is a good deal.   Ancel has higher downpipe speeds but for VoIP, carrying on 2 or more conversations, you really should have >384kb up.   Depending on your needs,  you can split these for different purposes, or manually switch back and forth as needed or you can use a ‘load sharing’ device to ‘bond’ these into one, to give you more and more reliable connectivity.  I’ve done this all over the US and Canada.  It’s cheap and it works. 

Reachability:  Until Uruguay launched Blackberry, I pleaded and begged with my staff to SMS me when they needed me.  It was a foreign concept to them.  We ended up using an email/sms gateway which gave them email access to SMS on my phone.  Not a great solution, but it worked.  With the Blackberry now, my position on this planet is invisible to anyone who SMS’s me, emails me, chats me, messengers me or calls me.  When it’s integrated with my desktop (many companies have Blackberry Enterprise nowadays), it will be competely impossible to tell where I am.  The point being, in business, no one likes surprises.  No one wants to know they’re talking to me in Uruguay.  They just want to get the job done, as quickly and as inexpensively as possible.  So do I. 

Other issues you have to deal with are time zone differences, holidays, where you want to park your email, whether what you want to and/or can do can be adapted to this setup, how you will be paid, how much you’re worth away from the office, (set up properly, you can save your employer a good deal of $ even paying you the same), how do you make this attractive to your employer or a potential employer, how will you connect yourself socially to your office up north, what are office politics when you work remotely, how can you ‘see’ what’s going on in the office, how can you nework with your far-off fellow workers, what are the tax implications, etc. etc.

Posted in Business, Technology | 4 Comments »

Blackberry in Montevideo

Posted by urufish on August 26, 2007

 blackberry-8700.jpg  blackberry_logo.gif

My job requires me to be in 24/7, electronic contact with the head office in Toronto.  When I got back to Uruguay, there were 2 things I needed to do right away.  Get a Blackberry and a 2nd, (redundant) internet connection.  Both proved challenging but the Blackberry was more urgent.  So it’s the first one I tackled.  ?

First of all, Blackberry is relatively new to Uruguay.  I had the service in Toronto pretty much from its inception.  (It’s a Canadian company based in Waterloo-next door to Toronto).  In those days, the phones really were Blackberries.  Until very recently they were Blue (Blueberries).   I first saw Blackberries available here with Movistar.  An advertisement at a bus stop on 21 was my first indication that Uruguay had moved into this technology. 

When I looked Blackberries up on the internet, I noticed that CTI also carries them.  But I already have  Movistar so I figured I’d try them first.  The first hurdle is you cant do anything from the Internet.  They simply say we have the service, call for more information.  No prices.. no availability.. no idea what it involves.  I feared the worst. 

Because my Spanish isn’t so good and Movistar’s english is worse, I had our IT head in Chile call Movistar.  2nd hurdle.  There’s only a Uruguay wide 800 number on the website.  So she emailed them and asked for their local number.  After a few more hurdles, she got the local number, had a nice conversation and set it up for me to go down and pick one up. 

When I got to Movistar, the person I was to see didn’t exist.  No surprise there.  I talked to the salesguy and he offered me the Pearl.    I said Pearls aren’t serious enough for my application.  I needed the 8700 – full keyboard.  He said he didn’t know if they had any in stock, but he’d call back the next day.  

I decided to check out CTI after I left Movistar, to see if they had one available right away.  They were worse.  Tried to sell me a really old Blueberry model.   I thanked them and left.

Next day, the Movistar guy called back.  Said he had one.  I went downtown to pick it up.  After 2 hours, I finally had it, with my old phone number.  Cost – $4800UYP for the equpment with a new voice contract.   It’s $12000UYP without a 2 year voice contract.  The service price is $850UYP/month.  That’s for unlimited emails, chat, messenger and internet access.   I find the data costs very fair.  

 They told me I had to come back in a couple of days and have the tech guys setup the data side at another location.  Not sure why they asked me to do that.  I set it up myself that evening.  Put the 6 people on my chat list that I need to stay in 24/7 contact with.  Invited them all to an online chat.  Everyone welcomed me back..   It’s a weird feeling, carrying all your co-workers around on your waist.  Able to reach them within seconds, any time of the day or night.  Weird indeed. 

Doing what I do and in my situation living here in Uruguay, a Blackberry is indispensable.  I can respond to emails immediately, no matter where I am.  When staff need answers quickly, there’s no substitute.  Calling back and forth, on cellphones between Canada, US, Chile and Uruguay would be cost prohibitive.  We’re all on unlimited plans, so we can dialog any time we want without extra charge. 

Many people think that having a cellphone or a Blackberry attached to you is the equivalent of being chained to the office 24/7.  I see it exactly the opposite way.  It’s total freedom, to go anwyhere and do anything you want and NOT be chained to the desk and your phone. 

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Back to Work

Posted by urufish on August 19, 2007


Well, retirement was a nice break, but now it’s back to work again.  

When we were in Toronto I spent a day with my old crew.   Turns out they missed me.  I really missed them too.  This retirement thing is highly over-rated…  Although it’s fun to be able to do whatever you want to do whenever you want to do it, (more theoretical than practical I might add), after a while, it can get pretty boring.  So starting tomorrow, I have a day job.    

It will be a nice change of perspective.   To experience what it’s like to work full time while living in Uruguay.  I always did like change.  Chaos even more… but in Uruugay, that’s an uncommon condition.  

Hopefully, this change of perspective will give me more material for the blog.  I should have 30-60 minutes a day to spare for it.  Now I just have to figure out how to get golf in on Mondays and Wednesdays.   Then there’s the issue with moving 3 hours ahead in the spring.   Always a new challenge. 

Posted in Daily life | 3 Comments »

We’re home

Posted by urufish on August 18, 2007


Immediately after writing the title for this post, I thought about what I’d said.  Is this really home… or were we just home?  They say the first thing that comes into your mind is the real truth.. so that means Uruguay really is home to us now.  Of course, it would have been a nicer homecoming if it was 30+ degrees outside, but we’ll wait. 

The trip back was the longest one yet.  The previous record was many, many years ago when we would route through NYC.  In total, just under 30 hours…  But it felt longer because we left just before midnight… and we’d been up since 8am Thursday morning.  Didn’t get much sleep on the plane either.  Unfortunately for me, every movie in the Hollywood section was one I wanted to see.  Too bad I’d left half of one movie to the Santiago-BA leg.  Even though there’s enough airtime, they dont turn them on til almost 30 minutes into the flight and they turn them off about 20 minutes before we land.  So I dont know how it ends.  Guess we have to buy the DVD.  Darn…

Buqeubus was so much fun this time.  We had way too much luggage to lug to Aeroparque and we didn’t see a connection option for us in EZE.  So did what we usually do, we booked the Buqeubus.  This was the first time we booked on line and it will be the last.  When I booked, we were supposed to leave Wednesday, boat over on Thusday.  But a day after we made the reservation, our agent said we would leave Thursday.  I went to change the reservation from Toronto, but you cant do that without the confirming email.  It’s supposed to come within 48 hours..   It’s been about a week.  We’re still waiting.  After several days waiting for the email that will never come, we got panicky and had friends here in Montevideo go to Buquebus and change the reservation. 

Buquebus said they never heard of us.  Not quite unexpected.. but the 2nd part was worse.  This was a long weekend.  The buquebus we wanted to change our reservation to had filled a couple of days before.  We would have to take one that they added at 8:30pm.  Told our friends to take it and we’d fight with Buquebus when we got into BA. 

We arrived at the port in BA around 4pm and fought with them for an hour.  They insisted we weren’t reserved but we told them that would be odd because Buqeubus had already charged our VISA card the day after the non-existant reservation was made.  Ahahah.. with the credit card number they were able to find it. 

That was followed by an apology but when we asked if they would put us on the 19:30 Buqebus they said no, there was no space.  We could take a credit or cash.  If we took cash, we would have to pay 30% penalty for missing the boat.  Missing the boat for which we never received a confirmation.  Ah well, this is Argentina/Uruguay where the customer is always wrong, even if he’s right..   So we took the credit and wished them well. 

The boat trip was eventful.  We have never ferried to Colonia before on the return trip from Canada.  We always took the boat directly to Montevideo.  This was a learning experience.  The water was rough.  The boat was small.  The guys in the duty free had to keep righting the perfume bottles as they tumbled whenever we hit a large wave, which averaged every minute or two. 

The water part is fast.  Around an hour.  The customs guys are more thorough than anywhere else I’ve been here.  They went through everything, 4 guys, 10 minutes..  That’s a lot of going through.  They found a circuit board that they gleefully passed around to each other.  I said sorry guys, this wasn’t military hardware.  The electrician who installed our dryer kind of made a mistake.  This was the board we already brought into Uruguay, brought back to Canada for repair.  After another few minutes of rummaging around, one of them discovered my ‘backup’ cellphone I bought in Toronto.  The chief guy had enough of this.  He told them to close me up and get out of there.  We obliged. 

The bus ride from Colonia to Montevideo was interesting.  The driver appeared awake.  The traffic was light.  The only thing that bothered me was the idiot in the 2nd seat, who kept taking flash pictures of the road through the driver’s window.  I guess he kept taking them because he wasn’t getting enough light on the road from the flash, through the windshield, to make a good picture.  If i was the driver, I would have smashed his camera.  But our driver was polite and just smiled. 

When we got out at Tres Cruces, the weather was a little brisk.  I have taken to wearing shorts and shoes without socks the past couple of weeks.  I gave in on the short, but still cling to sockfree shoeing.  I have discovered you dont need socks to keep your feet warm…  I’ve been fine all day. 

When we got home, we noticed the fountain in the front of our house was somewhat different.  Some dingaling actually tried to steal it a few days ago.  I guess he didn’t realize a) it was very, very heavy and b) it was cemented to the ground.  He managed to get the top off but couldn’t quite figure out how to get it over the fence.  I guess he hadn’t considered he’d weight 2-3 times more on the way back.  So he left it there on the front lawn.  One of our friends took it inside which is where it remains until the weather warms up a bit. 

I wonder what new and exciting adventures this coming week will bring? 

Posted in Daily life | 2 Comments »

Re-learning Canada

Posted by urufish on August 7, 2007


After clearing customs/immigration with the easiest interrogation I can recall, my daughter and I passed into Canada.  My wife was waiting there for us for with hugs and kisses.   Thus began my refamiliarization with my old home city and how I’ve changed in relation to it. 

First change.  Intead of renting a car, like I did all my life, a Uruguayan friend in Toronto borrowed me his, for the 12 days we’re here.  A very unCanadian thing to do… a very Urugayan thing to do.  This was the start of my Urunadian adventure. 

First stop after the airport was breakfast.  Where else does a returning Torontonian go?  Toronto’s IHOP equivalent, the Golden Griddle.    Waitresses?  They’re faster and cheerier than in Montevideo, serving more customers in less time. 

We came in on a Sunday and yesterday was a holiday so we were spared the bumper to bumper experience.  That comes today.  Cars are bigger and newer here.  Saw my first Cadillac in more than a year.  That’s one car I’ve never, ever seen in Uruguay. 

Toronto’s definitely a newer city than Montevideo.  You dont see a building in the burbs that’s older than the 50’s.  The building boom that’s been 10 years running didn’t slow down in the past 18 months.  There are buildings and houses all over the place that weren’t here when I left.  More big box stores and getting bigger. 

I stayed in a hotel in Paysandu last week for about UYP700/night per person.  We’re in a Delta this week.  You dont pay by the person, you pay by the room, UYP3000/night.  Just a bit more.  It’s about twice the size, so that makes it only about twice the price. 

I finally got a chance to cost food, apples to apples last night.  Toronto restaurants are double Montevideo restaurants prices.  The thing that struck me the most is water.  Within seconds of sitting down, staff come by with huge glasses and fill them with ice water, leaving a giant pitcher of ice water on your table.  This is tap water.  I love it.  I forgot how it tasted.  Yummmmmm..  I looked around and saw a couple of tables drinking Perrier.  I thought that was funny. 

Shopping in the drugstore brought with it a little sticker shock.  A bottle of cough syrup and a nose spray hit UYP1000.   We made the rounds of some discount clothing stores for my daughter.  I wasn’t in the mood.  As expected, the selection is a galaxy beyond Montevideo.  The prices are about double for most things, but the quality is much better.  The chinese clothing in Toronto is considerably higher quality than Montevideo.  

Driving here is so different.  Everyone stays between the white lines and signals when they change lanes.  It was FANTASTIC to make right turns on red lights again.  I’m going to miss that when we go back (sniff).  Gasoline is around 90 cents a liter, but tanks are bigger and mpg (kpl) is worse, so it evens out in the end methinks. 

First time since the 80’s that I can remember seeing the Canadian dollar at par with the US dollar.  Saw that this morning at the hotel desk.  I looked at it 3 times to make sure I wasnt reading it wrong.   The Euro was at 1.26…  It took over the US$ spot. 

Overall, I feel funny.  I look around me and see things I didn’t notice before.  I look at people and wonder about them.  Where they live?  What they do?  Where are they going?  Whenever I’m in a restaurant or a store, I keep saying gracias.   In my head, I’m rapidly translating to spanish before I speak to someone.  I keep wanting to ‘trill’ my r’s.  Yesterday, I bumped into someone and I was going to say ‘pardon’ but stopped at the last millisecond.  Someone asked me where I was from yesterday.  I said Uruguay.  She said she’s heard of it but didn’t know where it was.  


Posted in Daily life | 8 Comments »

Back to Toronto

Posted by urufish on August 6, 2007


We (daughter and myself), left Montevideo on Saturday morning to fly to Buenos Aires, to connect with an AC flight going to Toronto. It was the first time that I can remember getting up at 7am in Uruguay. Walking the dog at 7:30am was interesting. The streets were deserted. The dog crap was stone cold.

The drive to the airport was uneventful. But my daughter fainted just before security which livened things up a bit. Security called the nurse. She called a doctor. In Uruguay, the doctor comes with an ambulance. It appeard about 30 minutes before takeoff. They took my daughter into the ambulance and closed the door. About 10 minutes before flight time, a supervisor came out to ask the doctor if he was going to clear her so she could fly. I went into the ambulance and explained she only had 3 or 4 hours sleep the night before and that’s why she fainted. He agreed and let her go. The supervisor drove her (you get a wheelchair when you faint) through security and to a van to be driven directly to the plane. All the passengers were waiting at the gate when we got there. They held off boarding until the doctor finished checking her out. Most flights to BA are delayed so no one was particularly annoyed or surprised by the delay. Another perk of fainting is that they give you the seats right in the front of the plane and when the plane lands, you get driven off too.

We took the TAM flight which is the only one that flies to Ezeiza, BA’s international airport. Flyling TAM last week felt a little weird. This is the same TAM that had a plane crash in Brazil last week, killing everyone on board. When my daughter got out of the van at the plane, she looked up, saw the name and asked ‘isn’t that the plane that crashed last week?’ I said ‘no’. That was a different airline. Good thing my daughter still believes me. By taking a plane that flies to Ezeiza, instead of Aeroparque, we could check our luggage straight through to Toronto when we checked in at Montevideo. We were also able to take advantage of being in transit so we didn’t have to clear customs in Aregentina and lastly, the most important advantage of all, we didn’t have to make our way from Aeroparque airport (the local airpot) to Ezeiza.

When we were waiting to get our boarding passes for the AC flight, we ran into Migel, a partner in the company we used to bring our container to Uruguay. Migel and his brother, Oscar, own Canur. Migel was one of the guys who packed our container. Small world eh?

Migel was also flying back to Toronto on our flight. Turns out he flew on the same plane that we were flying out on. He was flying back on it too. He had to accompany a family from Toronto to BA and he had to get back the same day. So he would be flying for about 30 hours. I think he does this a lot. That’s how he gets his super Elite status.

The AC agent gave us a seat next to the emergency exit.. Row 18 on an AC 767. The extra leg room was nice, (I always sit in that seat), but this time we were in for a surprise. The first emergency door row’s seat does not recline. Sitting straight up in your seat for 13 hours isn’t my idea of fun. But there wasn’t much choice. Didn’t get much sleep.

The first class section is worthy of mention for those of you (like me), who hadn’t seen these new seats before. My first impression is that I was in some kind of futuristic cyber cafe. The seats are all set individually, on a diagonal–not in 2’s. Besides the suite of electronics gizmos you get with your seat, there is a small seat that faces you, probably to connect with your seat reclined, to turn it into a full sized bed for those 6′ and under. I assume if you have an abbreviated behind, you could sit there, facing the current occupant, playing cards.

Economy was improved too. I’ve been on planes where I can choose from one of many TV channels but this one didn’t have that. You got to choose from a dozen movies. On a 13 hour flight, this made staying awake bearable.

Going through customs/immigration when we arrived in Toronto was very different. For the first time in my life, I did not have to wait in line. This through me off because I didn’t have any documents out. Usually, we get into line and I have plenty of time to get things organized. I fumbled around for a few seconds, finding our passports and forms. He asked if I had anything to declare. I said we had a carton of cigarettes. He asked us how long we’d been away. I told him ‘quite a while, since November 2005’. He didn’t even blink. He just stamped the passports and said ‘OK, have a nice day’.

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