worlds away

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What a bad night – hardly any sleep at all.

I had done some research about the possible outcome of my situation the evening before, and it looked pretty serious: One foreign dude caught on a stroll with his GPS in Henan ๆฒณๅ— three years ago had apparently been detained for several months before being deported and having to pay a huge fine, and there had been other severe cases as well.

Damn, I was scared.

view over Usu

They had taken my computer, my GPS and my passport.
I couldn’t go anywhere.
I couldn’t do anything.
They had trapped the super-spy, congratulations!

I decided to ask permission to go out and get something to eat.

While I was eating, it slowly dawned on me that I this whole thing was entirely my own fault. If the use of GPS for foreigners was really illegal in the People’s Republic of China (and it was), then why had I been unaware of this?? I had spent quite a bit of time in this country, been to quite a few places, and I knew the language quite well – and still I failed to notice something as fundamental to my journey as this??

I imagined the police dudes saying: “His Chinese is so good, how can he NOT know that it is illegal for him to use a GPS? He must be a spy!!”

Damn, I was an idiot.

Well, I was still very unhappy with the situation anyway. Just whyย were these people so paranoid? And why hadn’t anybody told them that the real problem wasn’t some little foreigner walking along their highways fondling his navigation system?

The problems in this country were a lot more severe than that – the ubiquitous palm greasing, just to name one. Why didn’t they use their counter-espionage to get rid of some of the corruption for a change?

I didn’t have to walk very far to buy breakfast today, but on the way I saw this:


And this:


And these two:


But let’s not forget about this one either:

black VW

You see, some people will argue that these cars are new, so they don’t need any license plates (for a few weeks). This might be true for some of them, but who are they kidding?

To me, these plateless cars illustrate a double standard: the individuals who are connected (or rich, or smart, or just sneaky) cannot be held accountable for their actions here – just like their cars can never be identified.

When Mr. Wang came to my room to sit with me, I told him about my observation. We had been talking about all kinds of things since the day before, so it felt only natural to bring this up.

“You know, China has still a long way to go,” he explained, and then he told me that there were even a lot of cars with fake license plates out there. He sadly shook his head, and I realized that some of our viewpoints didn’t differ so much after all.

But then, you know how it is sometimes:


We continued our light conversation in the afternoon, and it covered just about everything. Why was I here? For fun? To study the country, the culture, the people? Why did I have to walk? Why not ride a bicycle? Did I intend to get married? Was I aware that tomorrow was the Mid-Autumn Festival, where everybody had to give and receive moon cakes and look at the moon at night?

Later that day, my friends from Kuytun came over to cheer me up. They brought apples, grapes, chicken wings and more mooncakes than I could possibly eat until the next Mid Autumn Festival, and I was so happy to see them! Unfortunately they couldn’t stay long, because the police and I still had some things left to talk about.

Where was I going to go next, after China? How much longer until I graduated from university? How much did my cameras cost? How did I pay for all this stuff and the traveling? Did I like China?

In the evening, Mr. Wang treated me to dinner. I couldn’t eat much, because I felt constantly worried, but at the same time I also noticed a weird sense of sympathy for my police overseer. Was this the beginning of a case of Stockholm-syndrome? Or was Mr. Wang really just a pretty reasonable and even likable guy with a wife and a little daughter who liked to play the piano?

That night, I couldn’t find any sleep either.
I sat there, looking outside the window.

Damn, the moon was beautiful.

It was like a tiny paper lantern above the city and the desert and the mountains…

moon over Usu

…a world away.

  • Nelson Lovell

    WHOOPS!! date bud!, wow you are a bit preoccupied all right, i hope it all works out for you. Ive been reading about your travels for about a year now. If the police want your camera badly enough i have an Olympus evolt-410 i will send you on the cheap.


  • glider

    You write the story so detailed after a month..
    so i guess you write your diary almost everyday,the delay is just because of putting it on internet later.
    haha๏ผŒmy poor English,ๅธŒๆœ›ไฝ ๆ‡‚ใ€‚


  • NMar

    Hallo Christoph,

    als ich heute Deine letzten Eintrรคge las, hatte ich zwar den Eindruck, daรŸ alles schon in der Vergangenheit passiert ist, was Du nun nach und nach berichtest, aber brauchst Du in irgendeiner Form Hilfe?



  • zmh

    I understand this is must be a little too unfortunate and upsetting…but i doubt many know about the shit about gps anyway, even for chinese people like me ( i definitely don’t). chinese law systems always hate technology stuff and they don’t really try to keep in sync. so please don’t blame yourself for all the crap. Hope you can get outta there soon.


  • Dili

    yahximusiz Christoph, r u still walking in xinjiang? i am an uyghur girl from urumqi…find ur vedios quite intersting…it is pity that u didnt go further to south part of the region ,right?


  • Tim

    Was mir da einfaellt:

    GPS Geraete die sendefaehig sind, sprich Daten senden oder Telefonfaehig sind, sind verboten, aber reine GPS Empfaenger sollten legal sein. Ich kann kein chinesisch, daher wirst du viel mehr Informationene finden als ich das kann, aber so wurde mir das ganze von einem Trekking-Guide in der tibetischen Grenzregion erklaert. Zumindest waere es ein moelgiches Druckmittel (gewesen?).


  • Lorenz

    Hi. Hoffe, du kannst alles klรคren und kommst heil aus der Geschichte wieder raus.


  • Nelson

    Has anybody heard what became of this poor guy????


  • Daniel

    Christoph, bitte irgendein Lebenszeichen – deine Fans machen sich Sorgen.


  • Christoph

    Nelson Lovell: Haha, thanks for the offer dude!
    glider: You are right, I am still writing, only very slowly!
    NMar: Alles in Ordnung, danke Dir! ๐Ÿ™‚
    zmh: Well, I think I should have known about the law though.
    Reni Hollerbach: I think they block out the sensitive areas though!
    Dili: Yahximusiz!! Yes, hopefully I will have a chance to visit South Xinjiang some day! ๐Ÿ™‚
    Tim: Nee, nicht legal. Leider.
    Lorenz: Danke!
    Nelson: Is that you, Mr. Lovell? Sorry for being so slow with the posts, got too much to do these days. But I AM updating still! ๐Ÿ™‚
    Daniel: Sorry, bin dabei! ๐Ÿ™‚


  • Kai

    …und heute lรคuft jeder mit seinem Smartphone inklusive prรคziser Standortbestimmung herum. Einziger Unterschied: Beide Seiten haben was davon…

    (Ich hole gerade Deinen Reise-Abschnitt von Urumqi bis zur Grenze nach, damit ich auch wirklich alles gelesen habe. Hoffentlich bist Du bald wieder on the road!)


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