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 河南 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.
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 why 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 these two:
But let’s not forget about this one either:
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…
…a world away.