I have a final exam to take back in Hangzhou in three days, and a flight booked from Urumqi that departs 36 hours from now. This trip, my last one before leaving China, is about to end. But before that happens, I’ve attempted to squeeze in one more stop between Kuqa and Urumqi: the beautiful Tianshan grazing lands of Bayinbulake, and a break from the desert heat for one day before going back to the humid sweatbox of Hangzhou.
Things were going well until I got to Baluntai, where I was told I could switch buses for a faster connection up higher into the mountains. As a result of the encounter related below, I am now incarcerated in a hotel room above a gas station, with nothing to do but write a lousy blog post.
PSB Officer: “How did you get to Baluntai? Do you have a car?”
Me: “I took the bus!”
Officer: “Oh, and where is this ‘bus’ of yours now?”
Me: “Uh… it went back to Korla, I think. You know, because it drives a route that goes here and back, like I assume it has for years?”
Officer: “Well, you can’t stay here. Here’s closed to Americans… I mean, all foreigners.”
Me: “Nobody said anything about that in Korla. How do I get back there now, anyway?”
Officer: “Have a seat. I’m making some calls.” (On the phone: “……Well, I’M not driving him back….There’s nobody else?”….) To me: “Okay, you can stay here the night. But no ‘luan pao,’ walking around (乱跑–literally, something like “running about willy-nilly”). And definitely no taking pictures.”
Me: “Of what?”
Officer: “Of anything! And no running about willy-nilly. And definitely no climbing these hills. In fact, just stay in your hotel.”
Me: “Okay. What about grabbing a bite to eat?”
Officer: “You can eat our Chinese food?”
Me: “I’ve been eating your Chinese food for two years.”
Officer: “Holy crap. Hey, guys, get a load of this: the American eats Chinese food!”