Don’t worry; Rus­sian in­ter­roga­tors are very po­lite (James B)

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - VISTA -

The bor­der be­tween Heihe in China’s north­east­ern Hei­longjiang Prov­ince and Blagoveshchensk in Rus­sia is lo­cated on the Hei­longjiang River, mak­ing it a land cross­ing in the win­ter, a wa­ter cross­ing in the sum­mer and a hy­brid land/wa­ter cross­ing in the fall and spring. You will board a sort of hov­er­craft that takes you across the mix of wa­ter and ice. A very cool ex­pe­ri­ence if you get the chance.

I am a Rus­sian and Amer­i­can dual cit­i­zen re­sid­ing in China’s Xin­jiang Uyghur Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion where I study the lan­guage of the eth­nic mi­nor­ity group of Uyghur. I speak English, Rus­sian, Pu­tonghua and Uyghur, which fur­ther sets me apart from most tourists. With that said, I’ve heard of oth­ers hav­ing trou­ble at this bor­der too.

The ad­ven­tures started when the Chi­nese bor­der of­fi­cials saw that I had been to Xin­jiang from the visas and stamps in my US pass­port and asked me what I was do­ing there. I told them I stud­ied Uyghur, I was a lin­guist and was writ­ing a book. They asked if I had the book on me. No, I didn’t. One of the of­fi­cers took my phone and my two pass­ports and went off some­where. I waited an hour be­fore they gave me my doc­u­ments back.

I boarded the next boat and crossed the river to Rus­sia. The of­fi­cer looked at my Rus­sian pass­port and noted I had been to Ukraine (three years ago) and to some Cen­tral Asian coun­tries re­cently.

“This is go­ing to take some time,” she said. “Please stand off to the side for now.”

Ten min­utes later, a pro­fes­sional-look­ing in­ter­roga­tor named Alexey showed up and took me aside to a small, win­dow­less room where we sat down and had a chat that was, quite hon­estly, po­lite and pleas­ant.

Alexey got my whole biog­ra­phy, as well as my e-mail and Face­book. He also asked me what I was do­ing in Cen­tral Asia. Fi­nally, he let me go just as the boat ticket win­dow was clos­ing.

I had noth­ing with me ex­cept a book. I set­tled into a stu­dent dor­mi­tory build­ing for an in­ex­pen­sive 400 rubles ($7) and si­mul­ta­ne­ously reg­is­tered in both Rus­sia and China on the same night. I went out for a quick bite, bought a phone charger (since I hadn’t brought that ei­ther) and went back to the dorm just in time for the whole re­gion to lose elec­tric­ity.

I woke up the next day con­fi­dent that the trip back to Heihe would be a cinch.

Af­ter get­ting my boat ticket and try­ing to check out of Rus­sia, an­other of­fi­cer told me to stand aside and wait. Forty min­utes went by, af­ter which a pro­fes­sional-look­ing in­ter­roga­tor named Sergey and his two pur­ple-shirted aides showed up and took me to the of­fice next door.

Then I rushed to catch the boat as it was leav­ing, which I mirac­u­lously did.

A com­puter glitch at Chi­nese cus­toms de­layed our boat’s ar­rival for yet an­other hour.

The Chi­nese cus­toms were nicer to me the sec­ond time around, re­mem­ber­ing me from the day be­fore, and the ho­tel didn’t charge me ex­tra for re­turn­ing past check-out time that day.

It was a has­sle I will never forget, as what should have been a visa run of a few hours turned into a full 24. Next time, I think I’ll just muster up the funds and fly.

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