A few years ago while my wife and I were working in China, we went for a long holiday in Xinjiang Province, which is the most westerly and northern province in China, bordering onto Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and several other Stans. By the way, “Stan” is a Farsi word which simply means “place of ……. People” So Pakistan means “Place of the Paki People” and so on.
Anyhow, we had just completed a 36 hour ride in a sleeper bus from Urumji and arrived at a small town near the Kazakh boarder and were sort of standing beside the bus wondering what to do next, when a couple of young Chinese girls and their tiny kid brother who had also been on the same bus as us came over and and started to talk to us.
This resulted in an invitation from them to rejoin them on the bus and head on off to the end point of the bus’s journey where there was apparently a very beautiful area of alpine countryside.
So, having no other pressing appointments, we agreed, clambered back onto the bus and headed off for another 5 or 6 hours driving and duly arrived at the small provincial town near to this especially beautiful landscape.
With their help we booked into a reasonable small hotel and enjoyed an evening in the town with them and their tiny little brother.
The next morning we hired a taxi for the day and headed off with our friendly Chinese girls to explore the famous area of natural beauty.
As we approached it, we ran into a serious Chinese Police road block – machine guns and so on very much in evidence sadly, and here our passports were checked extremely carefully. There seemed to be some sort of problem with our passports, but it wasn’t made clear what the problem was, so we were told to leave them with the cops, and carry on into the hills.
Which we duly did, and had a very enjoyable time in those gentle forested hills and rivers with the girls and their wee brother.
However, when we arrived back at the road block in our taxi, problems began.
The cops were aggressive and told us that as foreigners we were forbidden to be in this part of China and that our passports had been sent to a police station in a town about 30 km away and we had to go there in our taxi (with the girls) and report to the cop shop there for further handling.
At this the girls and the taxi driver became extremely nervous, but as there was no choice in the matter, off we headed.
Conversation was extremely stilted in the taxi as you can perhaps imagine!!!
Anyhow, we arrived at the cop shop and reported to the desk sergeant, who after leading us through the cell area to sort of indicate what perhaps awaited us informed that as the matter was so serious, our passports had been sent (with attendant report of our crimes) to the town we had spent the previous night in – about another 70 km along the road. And that we had to go and report to the head police station there at once.
So off we went again…. Once again a very silent group of people in the taxi.
When we finally arrived at the main police station, our taxi driver and the girls were told to piss off (much to their relief) and we were led inside and shoved into a sort of interview room – where we awaited our fates.
By this time, Lotty (my wife) was becoming extremely angry at being treated in this fashion, and sat there with fury in her eyes.
After waiting there for about an hour, a high ranking police woman appeared and started to question us about why we were in that part of Chine, what we thought we were doing with those girls and who we were and all manner of similar questions. All of this was delivered in reasonable English. Certainly better than my limited mastery of Mandarin.
In the course of all this questioning, I formed the opinion that we had such a high ranking cop as she simply wished to practice her English.
Also, poor old Lotty was getting angrier and angrier at the questions, which in China is not the way to deal with things. What works there is to be extremely apologetic, admit you were in the wrong, and apologise profusely. So I managed to stop Lotty’s more furious answers to the questions and generally created an impression of us being two stupid tourists who had no understanding of Chinese ways and laws.
This seemed to work, as after a while, the cop said that were were naughty, slapped our hands metaphorically, fined us a couple of hundred RMB and told us we had to be out of town before sunset (truly). I protested politely about that as it would have meant yet another tax ride of several hundred km, as the last bus had already gone. Happily she agreed with this logic, and said that we had to be on the first bus out of town on the morrow, and that one of her officers would be there to make sure we did depart.
So off we went, back to our hotel, where the girls were waiting anxiously to find out what had happened. Vastly relieved they were too when they heard that it had all gone off in a reasonably peaceful way, and that they were not in trouble themselves for having introduced us foreigners into the wrong part of the Middle Kingdom.
Obviously, we were on the first bus out of town the following morning….. And headed off to our next destination in this huge province, the city of Ily.
It had been an interesting experience, and happily relatively painless as well.