Editors Note: We’re having difficulty posting from China. Please be patient with us over the next week or so, especially with pictures.
Sometimes you cross a border and it’s like walking into a completely different world. That’s the only way to describe crossing into China.
The Kazakhstan border post was what I’ll just call the “typical” developing world land border post, a few randomly posted guards check your passport, open a gate, you pass through an area which you suspect might be customs, but although you stop and ask for the form in English or make a motion to let them check your bag they wave you through because you’re foreign and well frankly it’s more trouble than its worth. You stand in line, being pushed and shoved until finally its your turn. Elbows at the ready in case of more line cutters (even though the immigration officer already has YOUR passport), you are finally stamped to exit and set free. With our registration in Kazakhstan a complete fiasco, we were relieved that no one asked us a single question upon exiting the country. Maybe we should have tried to stay longer, we thought, and then just as quickly realized it’s never good to tempt fate.
Emerging into the Chinese immigration post was like a completely different world. There were free public toilets, complete order, signs in English, Chinese and Russian, and an incredible amount of staff to direct you, answer your questions and maintain order. There was no doubt we were in a whole new world. “Welcome to Chinese Communism,” I thought with a huge smile.
Standing in line for immigration Danny moved next to me, breaking the single file line. Immediately he was directed back into place. Laughing, we wondered what kind of fight would break out when the pushy Central Asian women arrived. Needless to say it wasn’t pretty, but after only a few sharp words from the guards the women fell into place.
Getting into China should have been easy, we received our multiple entry visas last year in Washington and there’s no registration process to go through. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case and we waited for several minutes at immigration for them to process us. My huge smile turned to frustration and finally… well… finish reading the story. I repeated my name nearly a dozen times to the immigration officer before the supervisor came over. Again he questioned the pronunciation of my name and I was finally set free to go to customs.
Most customs checks are a joke, but the Chinese weren’t kidding around. All around me luggage was being unpacked and sorted through. Groaning, I began opening my backpack with the nonchalant custom’s agent until he saw my laptop. Suddenly alert, he motioned for me to open the laptop and turn it on. Protesting slightly, I obeyed as this isn’t really THAT unusual at border crossings. Once the computer was on, he motioned for me to log-in. Now things were getting a little unusual.
With a questioning look, I watched him for any kind of explanation. Instead he continued to demand in a mix of Chinese and English that I put in my password. Maintaining what I could of my privacy, I typed in the password. He confiscated my passport from the desk and the laptop before walking away into a closed office. Instantly I was on fire, protesting and making a commotion. Another official approached me and said simply: “computer check.” He motioned for me to pack up my backpack and wait in an area beyond customs. Protesting, even louder this time, I had no choice but to obey. Danny was still held up at immigration, being asked to repeat his name a dozen times for the supervisor.
Waiting for both my passport and our computer, another supervisor approached me and asked me for my passport. I pointed to the closed door and tried to indicate that they had it. Looking frustrated at me, he gave up, motioned for me to sit down and walked away. Standing my ground, completely in the way of anyone else leaving customs (the squeeky wheel gets the oil, right?) I began to wonder if we’d be calling the US Embassy in Beijing that afternoon. Minutes ticked by an eventually someone elses laptop emerged and was returned to the owner. Finally our laptop and my passport emerged. Somewhat tersely I thanked the officer who brought it to me, repacked my bag and got out of there. Only later when Danny and I were reunited (he was having difficulty getting through immigration during the whole ordeal) did we try to figure out what had happened behind closed doors.
From what we can tell the check probably had something to do with the province we entered. Xinjiang province, in northwest China, is an autonomous region for the Uighur minority. Over the last two years the political situation between the Uygur’s and the Chinese Government has deteriorated drastically leading to a number of political demonstrations and killings. More on that tomorrow. We later found out that foreigners aren’t allowed to use Internet cafe’s in the region and cell phones are often blocked from making calls to recipients outside the area.
Welcome to China.