a box of chocolates – sometimes you just pick an unpalatable one.
The phone woke me up this morning – it was the police.
When I opened the door, I was looking at five middle-aged men and a police badge. They were wearing regular clothes and had stern expressions on their faces.
I knew I was in deep shit.
“Where were you last night?” they asked.
Then they started a thorough investigation of my equipment. It looked like their main focus was on my computer and my cameras – they had even brought a notebook to copy my memory cards.
I somehow managed to keep my composure and politely played along. I even found it somehow enjoyable to keep producing more and more memory cards to fill up their notebook with my stuff.
Then they found the GPS.
“What is this?”
I answered truthfully.
“You are not allowed to operate this within the People’s Republic of China!!”
“Any kind of GPS is ILLEGAL for foreigners!!”
I told them that they must have gotten something mixed up here. My GPS was a piece of standard outdoor equipment that you could buy in any outdoor stoor from here to Beijing. Besides, every smartphone and almost every car came equipped with GPS these days. How could I possibly NOT have one? Did they really want me to be walking through the Gobi desert with a compass and a map? Were they kidding?
They nodded and mumbled a half-assed good-bye, then they made for the door.
“Are we done now?” I asked them. The door clunked shut and I was alone again.
I decided it was time to get something to eat after all this excitement, so I went out and got some noodles.
But alas, when I came back, there were already some people waiting for me outside of the hotel – among them her majesty, the ice princess, beautiful and subzero as ever.
“Where did you go now?” she asked me, and there was not the slightest hint of an expression on her face.
This time, I was told to pack up my stuff and head back to Shihezi or Ürümqi to take care of my visa application. Immediately.
They followed me up to my room, where I started the sad and confused task of packing my equipment, to put an end to this summer’s little walking expedition. What was wrong with me and this area? Why did I have so much shit happen to me here?
Life is like… a game of chutes and ladders – sometimes when you are falling, there just seems to be no way to stop.
Just when I was done packing, there was a knock on the door. It was the police guys from earlier in the morning. And they had brought company.
“We have come to confiscate your computer, your cameras and your GPS, for you have VIOLATED THE LAW!”
But what about my visa extension?
“We will resolve your visa issue for you, but you must hand over your passport now!”
I had to sit down on the bed.
Think, Chris, think! What to do now? I verbosely explained to them that it was important for me to erase the passwords to my email and my online banking account from my computer before they could take it with them. They nodded and mumbled a half-assed approval. Then I took five minutes to erase the keychain from my computer, and while I was at it, I made back-up copies of some other vital stuff and saved it on my email account as well.
I was then told to wait, and not leave the room. A certain officer Mr. Wang 王先生 and his subordinate were there to wait with me.
It was grueling.
At one point, my friend Lei Sheng 雷晟 from Kuytun called me. I briefly described the situation, and told him that I didn’t think I had enough time left this year to continue my walk. Just what would I do with my beloved Caboose?
He told me not to worry. He would come over with a truck and store the Caboose at his place.
Mr. Wang kindly granted me permission to go out and take care of these things with my friend.
When Lei Sheng arrived, I realized how good it was to see this friendly, optimistic guy:
We unpacked the Caboose and lifted her on the bed of his pick-up truck:
(Thanks to Mr. Wang for taking the picture.)
When we were done, Lei Sheng patted me on the back and advised me to be kind to the police, pour them some tea and offer them a few of the grapes that he had brought for me. Then he got back in the car and started the engine.
So this was it.
I touched the Caboose one last time. Somehow I wasn’t prepared to let her go this soon. There was a lump in my throat, and I could feel my eyes get watery.
“You seem to be very unhappy,” Mr. Wang said as we went back to the room: “Is this because of our work, or because of the loss of your vehicle?”
We had to wait for the other police officers to return. There were grapes laid out on the table – big fat purple ones from this area, and little green seedless ones from Turpan.
As Mr. Wang and I engaged in light conversation about China’s role in international politics, about the situations in Xinjiang, Tibet, Taiwan and in the rest of the world, our glasses were misting up with hot golden Tieguanyin, just like Zhu Hui had taught me to prepare.
I took a sip and felt its soothing aroma fill the space inside my head.
Life is like… swinging on lianas – every once in a while you just have to let go.