Monday, June 9, 2008

Being Interrogated

The interrogation was in Chinese. I was still in the giddy, "I know what you're saying and want to prove it" thrill of hearing Chinese spoken again. I might have been even more excited except we spent six hours at the Kazakh border and that wore me out.

Six hours. What could they possibly do for six hours, you ask? I'm not really sure, but it involved a bunch of military guys taking all of our passports, putting them in a briefcase, and driving away. We eventually got our passports back so maybe they came back. There was also a lot of waiting. I listened to some passengers speak Chinese for a few hours and felt totally exhausted afterward. Luckily, all I did that day in the train was sleep, so I had energy to be awake for the whole visa process. (Incidentally, I was also lucky that all I didn't do that day in the train was drink water, because the toilets didn't work when the train was stopped...)

Six hours also gives enough time for the military people to hassle us. I don't know why they were so particular about people leaving their country.

But at 11 that night (give or take two hours; when we crossed into China we were officially on Beijing time, which was two hours later) they let us get to the Chinese side of the process. The Chinese put the Kazakhs to shame in terms of paranoia. You would think that some of the old USSR spirit would linger, but the Chinese had them beat. I'm just glad I wasn't carrying anything that was actually private.

First they started on the French woman in my cabin. She was into some kind of Tibletan (now that I'm back in China I should censor myself) religion and had some documents in French with suspicious writing. She's French, though, and so no one could understand what it said. I acted as informal translator from her passable English into my bad Chinese for the beginning of the questioning about that, but when I was unable to translate phrases like "the divinity of justice" the Chinese got frustrated and found someone else. The first guy in charge called in his boss, who called in his boss, who called in his boss. Each time they went through the same questions, and the only thing that changed was her answers became more and more simplified until it got to "Daoist stuff."

Finally they let her off.

Then they came through and made us unpack our bags and show them everything. I had to open my computer and show them my videos (they enjoyed my juggling). Suprisingly, my Bible made it through without incident.

We thought it was over and started to repack, but then another guy told us to collect all of our things to go be questioned. They asked us all the questions I know how to answer now in Chinese: where are you from, what are you doing here, etc. Then they started up my laptop and looked at all of my pictures. They saw a lot of Melanie, because if Melanie touches a camera and my computer, hundreds of almost identical pictures of herself magically pop up. I said it was indeed my little sister.

Eventually they let us into China and we passed the next 12ish hours asleep. Going out of the country hasn't killed my ability to speak Chinese. The Vietnamese-American guy in our cabin was going to go to Shanghai, but the French woman and I realized we both wanted to see the same city next, so we're in Turpan already seeing ancient city ruins. I am happy to be somewhere I can take a shower, though. I only managed one when I was living in Almaty's train station, and even though I brushed my teeth this morning on the train, it's not quite the same.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Will,
So happy to have you back safely in china. I laugh about the pictures of Melanie magically popping up! Now your little sister is an international photo star! Enjoy your showers.
Love, Virginia