If you happen to be flying through Japan's Narita airport in the near future, spare a thought - or maybe a snack - for Feng Zhenghu.
The 55-year-old Chinese human rights activist, who travelled last spring to Japan to visit his sister, has been living in the arrivals lounge of Tokyo's international airport since Nov. 4, the day he returned from his latest attempt to return to his native Shanghai. Since then, he's been stuck in an international limbo straight out of the Tom Hanks movie, The Terminal.
Chinese authorities have barred him from going home. And a determined Mr. Feng is refusing to leave the airport unless he's allowed to do so aboard a plane to Shanghai. Mr. Feng took time last week to chat on his cellphone with The Globe. Today is Day 41 of his ordeal.
Can you describe where you are right now?
I'm staying in the entry hall of the south wing in Terminal 1 of Narita airport. This bench is my home, where I sleep at night and sit and write during the daytime [Mr. Feng posts updates in Chinese about his situation on his Twitter account] I can see the international tourists walking through in front of me here. On the bench, I have several posters sent by people from Hong Kong. One says "support Feng Zhenghu returning home" with my photo and some supporters' signatures.
How are you surviving? Do you have money? Food? A place to eat and wash?
In the beginning, staying here was very tough because the entry hall is totally different from the departures hall, which has many shops for you to buy things and places to surf the Internet. If you have been to Japan, you will know in the entry hall there is no shop or ATM at all. ... In the beginning, I asked some Japanese officials to help me buy things, but they refused. They wouldn't allow my relatives sending stuff in to me because they originally planned to force me away. I can wash in the washroom but there's no way to have a shower. Japanese washrooms use water-saving taps.
Why do you refuse to leave the airport and enter Japan?
I have now tried eight times to go back to China. Four times I was refused boarding by the airline company in the airport. The other times I landed in China, but every time I was forced back to the plane and returned to Japan. No one was paying attention to my situation.
Why do you think the Chinese government is preventing you from returning to your country?
Publicly there is no reason. The local authorities just have two sentences. The first sentence is: "Mr. Feng Zhenghu, you can't enter the territory again this time." The second is: "This is the decision [that]comes from the upper rank." The airline companies blocked me for the same reason. In China, who is the "upper rank" officials are referring to? Who knows? Personally, I think it's because I'm an academic who is familiar with the law. I often help petitioners, especially the ones from the Shanghai area, on legal cases when their rights were violated.
How have other travellers responded to you?
They come up and read [the signs] But I think they feel it's hard to believe ... because they think China is quite [advanced]now and it's impossible for China to stop a citizen returning to their homeland. Air Canada's flight attendants are very kind-hearted. They provided me several times the food and once they sent me a newspaper. ... I wrote about them on Twitter.
Have you heard of the Tom Hanks movie, The Terminal?
Someone sent me a copy after my case was reported in the media. The real story is more meaningful than the movie story. In the movie, the country [that Tom Hanks's character is trying to return to]didn't exist. But China exists and is a big country, a permanent member of the UN Security Council. But the [movie's]story is realistic anyway ... the character Tom Hanks plays stands up as a common citizen to face the indifference of the world to human rights.