Moving On

Meat in a Yurt
September 01, 2007

Tonight is my last night in Urumqi. This afternoon I shipped a couple parcels back to Seattle: the contents were mainly books. I'm presently preparing a small knapsack to take with me on my next trip. Tomorrow I take the bus to Alma-Ata, from there I plan to continue overland westward, arriving in Europe sometime this winter.

I have left Urumqi to travel many times before, this departure will be final. I'm finished with my studies. I haven't acquired any additional credentials, degrees, or letters after my name, though feel comfortable enough with my abilities in the areas I came here for. I'm passable speaking both Uighur and Chinese languages. The Chinese calligraphy and Islamic calligraphy I write will never be hung on walls anywhere, but it's no longer embarassing to look at.

I'm sure I will pass through Urumqi again some day. Perhaps that time might be as soon as early next year. I have things--calligraphy I bought in Mongolia, other artwork which I had framed--that will be difficult to get to the U.S. any way other than as carried hand luggage.

I'm somewhat on edge about the bus trip to Alma-Ata tomorrow. It's not anxiety about leaving Urumqi, it's anxiety about overstaying my visa. My visa expired August 30. I had originally bought a ticket departing August 29--that would have allowed me just enough time to make it out of the country. However, the day before the bus was to leave the bus company called me: my run had been cancelled. The border would be closed owing to some holiday in Kazakhstan. I didn't think it would be a problem to extend my visa, but the Urumqi Public Security Bureau (through whom I would need to make the change) has been moving location this past week. I went to their old location twice to ask about adjusting my paperwork, they absolutely refused to process any visa extensions until next week.

I'm going to get on the bus and see what happens at the border. I think the general procedure is to levy a fine for each day in the country beyond the visa expiration. I've heard that the maximum fine per day is 500 RMB, about $67 USD. I'm hoping that somebody at the border will see the sense in my situation and allow me free passage. I do have a photocopy of my original bus ticket, I also have a letter from the Foreign Affairs Office of Xinjiang University asking the Urumqi PSB for a visa extension. The border officials should be aware that the Urumqi PSB is moving. I even wrote down the employee number of a PSB officer here who told me: "Just go, there will be no problem. Bring a photocopy of your original ticket, they won't fine you."

Despite that assurance, I'm dubious that I'll cross into Kazakhstan without some bit of hassle. I've found--across all of China--that intent and common sense are often trumped by literal adherence to the letter of law. I'd be willing to pay a nominal fine, but if it gets into the several-hundred-yuan range, I think I'll opt to return to Urumqi to get my papers in order. After the PSB has re-opened I could get the visa extension here cheaply--coming back might be a better option than coughing up 2,000 yuan. It would be ironic if I wind up returning to Urumqi just a day or two after "leaving for good".

At least I'll have some company on the bus ride, whether I'm allowed through the border or not. Rian needs to make a visa run himself--the time on his present visa is almost up. We have tickets for tandem upper berths on the sleeper bus. With luck, we'll both make it through and be able to spend some time together enjoying those things in Alma-Ata seldom found in China: cheese, dark beer, and flavored crouton snacks are all on my list.

I had hoped to write a detailed entry about the end of my trip back up from Pakistan. I've just been too busy--saying farewells, sorting through my belongings, chucking things, and boxing everything up--to write anything for the past month.

In short, my time in the Bayan Bulak area felt a lot like my time in Mongolia. Open pasturelands, plates of lamb for meals, milk tea, people living in yurts and people riding around on horseback. Being part of China the Bayan Bulak region is far more developed, with far less of that traditional culture than exists in Mongolia itself. Still, it was a nice reminder of a trip Meenday and I took together one year ago.

Next stop: Alma-Ata.