When I woke up, even the bugs were still asleep:
I passed a structure that somehow resembled the Great Wall:
Then I was on the long, straight road to the city of Jinghe:
There were green fields left and right, and I was happy:
Jinghe is a rather large settlement with a capita of 120.000. To me, this meant a few days of rest in a comfortable hotel, with good food and maybe even broadband included. I was tired, my feet were aching, and I was looking forward to it all.
When I left the freeway, I could overlook part of the outskirts:
Sheep were there, and I like sheep. I could see a bunch of newly built structures in the background:
It seemed like a very good place to me.
Then a few youngsters appeared:
They were about 12 years old and belonged to the Kazakh 哈萨克 minority. And they were so gifted! We chatted for about a half-hour, and they were smart and well-mannered, it felt like I was talking to perfect adults.
Their Mandarin was perfect, and when I say perfect I mean perfect, no accent whatsoever, none of that crude Northwest dialect that many people around here like to label as “Standard Chinese”. And they spoke Kazakh of course, and Uyghur as well. When I asked them about their English lessons, they just laughed and said it was no big deal to them. Go figure!
I was in high spirits when I walked through the welcoming arch of Jinghe:
The city was bustling with shops, restaurants and hotels:
But none of the hotels would have me.
Apparently, there are only two hotels here that have the right to host foreigners. This sort of hotel is generally called “hotel suited for foreigners 涉外宾馆”, and when I walked up to the first one, they told me they only had one room left, and it was a suite, and I could only have it for one night – for an exorbitant sum of course.
I declined and asked for directions to the second hotel. They were full, but they told me there was a third international hotel that had just opened.
I walked over there, and they were right, the hotel was huge:
But they wouldn’t let me stay. When I asked them why, they said that they had not yet obtained the permission to host foreigners. But they gave me the number of Officer Xu from the local police station.
So I called Officer Xu. He listened to my problem, then told me to wait for him to call me back. I waited for a while, then he called me and said that there was in fact room for me in the second hotel.
I said that they were completely booked.
He said no they weren’t.
I told him I was on foot and asked him if he could let me please stay in this new hotel, I would come to his police station and do the registration process with my pass and visa personally.
He said no, and the tone of his voice drastically changed. “I am not kidding, go back to the second hotel or get out of this town!” he said.
I walked back to the second hotel. Of course they didn’t have any room. I walked back to the first hotel. They still had the suite for one night. I didn’t want the suite. I felt hurt.
There is an old saying in Chinese: “A friend coming in from afar, doesn’t that mean happiness? 有朋自远方来，不亦乐乎？”
Well, apparently it doesn’t. At least not to Officer Xu of the police of Jinghe.
I ran into one of the Kazakh kids on my way out of town. He was shocked to hear that I had no way of staying, we shook hands, and I told him to visit me once he made it to university. I was sure he would.
Then I shook the dust off my shoes and left Jinghe.
The highway was blank and dull. Once again, the Gobi was wrapped around me like a brown blanket.
One time, a truck stopped and a few smiling Uyghurs exchanged a few words with me:
This made me feel a bit better, but it didn’t mean that I would find a place to stay.
Then there was this file of buildings next to the road. It was all restaurants. I stopped at the one that I found most inviting:
“Please, can I stay here for the night?” I asked the owner. He shook his head and said that they were a restaurant, not a hotel. Why did I not go to Jinghe instead?
I told him that the police of Jinghe apparently didn’t value certain Confucian sayings.
Then the owner’s wife said something to him that I couldn’t understand.
“Come in,” he said and smiled.
I got a room in the back:
Got hot water for my feet:
They gave me food, and I ended up playing Sushi Cat on my iPod with the owner’s little nephew.
They were the most friendly people, and I felt very grateful.
Now you might be thinking: Chris, come on, only 30k! Why didn’t you keep walking to the next bigger settlement?
I wonder if there are any Confucian sayings about messed up feet.