Travel Log, 20 June.
6PM: I’m in Akqi, near the Kyrgyzstan border, and I couldn’t feel more welcome. I slipped in to this area, also part of the off-limits Kizilsu Kyrgyz Prefecture, by hiring a cab driver in Kashgar who was also up for an adventure, and just as keen to bypass all the police checkpoints we might encounter. We stopped in a couple little towns along the way, chatting with curious shop owners and picking up a couple nice-looking shyrdaks for taking back home. Then, when we arrived in Akqi, I took a walk and then made my way to the PSB, where I fully expected to be booked and shipped out on the next bus to Aksu. Instead I was greeted like a VIP, a status accorded to the first foreigner in anyone’s memory to come through these parts. Apparently the PSB here just never got the memo: foreigners don’t come here because they’re technically not allowed to come here, at least according to the PSB office in Kashgar. I spent a good hour in the PSB office, getting chatted up about what it’s like to be a foreigner, receiving recommendations for a good hike the next morning, and hearing about what development schemes the government has going or planned in these parts (answer: horse breeding, hydropower, and domestic tourism).
It just goes to show: when travelling in China, you never know what you’re in for. Continue reading
Travel Log, 19 June.
10AM: Back on a bus, and feeling good. My catch-and-release experience with the Khotan Public Security Bureau last night had actually been a pretty positive one for everybody involved: a comfortable ride, interesting conversation–and a chance to meet the senior public security officer on watch for Khotan County that night, a friendly middle-aged bureaucrat who was, expectedly, Han–but unexpectedly, a woman, and even more unexpectedly, fluent in Uighur. After seeing my Zhejiang University ID card and hearing my story about this being my last grand trip in China before leaving, she was nice enough to direct her junior officers to take me to a cheap guest house, as I’d requested, rather than to the usual overpriced grand hotel preferred by most PSBs for their foreign “guests.” My PSB escorts even told the guesthouse night receptionist, an affable Uighur man in his twenties who’d had a bit to drink that night, that the rate I was looking to pay was nonnegotiable, and that was that. Continue reading
Fujian Province is kinda like Kansas City: it exists across two separate, higher-level jurisdictions. Except unlike the governments of Missouri and Kansas, with their peacefully state-spanning city, the governments of mainland China and Taiwan don’t officially recognize that any part of their shared province belongs to the other. They don’t even agree on how to alphabetically write the name: to the PRC it’s “Fujian,” while the Republic of China on Taiwan insists on the old “Fu-chien.” Even after the Nationalists lost control of dozens of their remaining island strongholds off Zhejiang and Fujian in the 1950’s, a few pieces of ye olde Fu-chien have remained. The most famous of these is Kinmen, a large island of flat farmland and sleepy villages sitting just a couple swimmable miles away from the giant (mainland) city of Xiamen. Lesser known are the Matsu (马祖) Islands to the north, which are part not only of a divided province but of a divided county, written/spelled 连江 Lianjiang in the PRC and 連江 Lien-chiang in Taiwan. Continue reading
Having been detained, and then let go, by the criminal gang that was operating its own border crossing just off the main road, I decided that my remaining time in Myanmar would not be spent doing any more exploring. I shouldered my backpack, clutched my day bag and a Shan-style woven hat I’d bought as a souvenir, and made my way toward the large group of people milling around outside the official border crossing.
To make a long sub-plot short, as well as to drop two cliches in as many paragraphs, suffice to say that border procedures were a huge pain. Involving lots of lines, and the same confused, and then exasperated, border agent over and over again, the whole deal was also uneventful-enough to be unworthy of recounting here (although that hasn’t stopped me before). What matters is that once I finally got through the Myanmar side, I was feeling nothing less than euphoric at being back in China. Finally, back in a more-normal country! I’ve never smiled so brightly at a Chinese immigration officer. Nor at one of any other country’s immigration officers. I felt like I was home. Continue reading
Continued. In case you forgot. (It’s been a while–I did!)
I don’t remember waking up. Just standing out on the street with my bag, saying goodbye to my no-need-to-name-here Burma Driver, and thinking: Hey, my back and joints actually feel pretty good this morning. Last night’s tendon-stomping, human-trafficked masseuse (and I’m not saying that to be funny) must have know what she was doing after all.
My head was another story–the result of yesterday’s dehydration and this morning’s hot sun. But nothing that a cup of Myanmar’s sugar-slushed, condensed-milk-swirled variant of “coffee” couldn’t fix. I sat down at a nearby tent serving breakfast, downed four gulps from a dirty cup in between bites of a fried oil-bread stick (油条), and before I knew it I was out in back, looking for a good place to squat amid the mess of trash, flies and filth. Just another Myanmar morning. Continue reading
This post continues the incredible saga of my trip from Myanmar back into Yunnan.
The last stage of my journey was actually supposed to be the second-to-last. But then I lost my day-pack, and plans went awry.
Not just the day-pack was lost. The contents, in ascending order of importance: cellphone, Kindle, camera, iPod touch (which is my laptop when travelling), highly marked-up copies of 《中国非传统安全研究报告（2012版）》 and Protracted Contest: Sino-Indian Rivalry in the Twentieth Century, and lastly a notebook filled with crucial research notes for a thesis due in six weeks. Bad things to lose. Real bad. Continue reading
We have to continue to fight the evil of communism, and to fight you must have an army, and an army must have guns, and to buy guns you must have money. In these mountains, the only money is opium. -General Tuan, 1967
Coming down through Thailand’s far north, approaching Mae Chan, the hazy flat expanse of green rice shoots west of bustling Highway 1 ends at the base of high hills of scrub jungle, scattered villages, and the occasional half-completed holiday resort. Speeding upwards on a careening tuk-tuk, amid the dark shade of the surrounding hills at mid-morning and catching faint cross-breezes coming down from Myanmar’s Shan State, I felt a sudden, surprising sensation of cold. In Thailand, even in February, it’s easy to forget what that feels like. The old man in the bench across folded his arms against his chest, kicking his feet out for stability as we rounded another curve. Continue reading
The Mekong is the World’s 14th longest river, which I guess means it’s not all that long. But starting high in Tibet and ending at the southern tip of Vietnam, its waters do flow down through, and between, quite a number of disparate areas and countries. So on this trip through Yunnan and northern Southeast Asia, we have crossed / will cross it once each at Jinghong, Jingha, Houay Xai, and somewhere near Baoshan. That’s been the plan, anyway. That is, we sure didn’t plan to cross it more than once at Houay Xai, the border crossing from Laos into Thailand. Certainly not three times, each with our two big bags and one small toddler stacked precariously on a low-riding bamboo boat with a sputtering outboard. But thanks to the fact that we inattentively walked right past the dozing officials who were supposed to give us our Laos exit stamps, and the fact that the Thailand immigration official on the other side of the river cared, for some reason, whether his Lao counterparts on the other side were doing their job, we were directed to go back, wake up the exit-stampers, and thus make two extra crossings of that stinkin’ river. So while some parts of our trip have felt like we’re just rushing through, this little stretch of smelly water was one place we really savored. Any longer and we might have been able to figure what cut of our extra ferry tolls those border officials collected. Continue reading