Interesting Snippet Of A Biking Expedition In Xinjiang

By Air Commodore (r) Kaiser Tufail

Having camped for three consecutive nights, we were badly in need of a bath and some rest, so we decided to take an unscheduled break in a hotel in Yengisar. Not knowing about any good hotel, we surprised a number of passers-by by asking, “bez mahmankhana kiyerde?” (Is there a hotel anywhere near?) Finally, one gentleman guided us to Oriental Holiday Hotel, the best one in town. While I went through the check-in formalities at the reception, Shahid had a bunch of amused kids around his bike. Suddenly, I heard the hooters of a police patrol car and looking around, saw it come to a screeching halt in front of the hotel lobby. With the red and blue flashers blinking, it indicated some kind of emergency.

When I went out to see what the action was, four policemen came out and asked us to show our passports. Ah, so the hullabaloo was because of us! The passports and visas were in order, but the policemen told us to leave the hotel anyway. They were frantically calling on the walkie-talkies and also took our pictures. In a while another police patrol car with a wailing siren and flashing lights arrived. Now there were eight policemen giving instructions to the two of us in Chinese, which we could not understand. It was an impasse. That is when I pulled out the magic document from my pocket and shoved it under the nose of the head constable. It was an official Chinese document in Chinese language which advised all concerned that “these Pakistani senior military officers should be facilitated in their expedition as and when required”.

Now things seemed to change in a jiffy. One of the policemen took a few steps towards me and presented an awesome salute. Another policeman did the same to Shahid. The policemen might as well have added: “janab, parade baraey muaaina tayyar”! The eight policemen went into a conference in the hotel lobby, but were unable to take any decision. They again started calling someone on the walkie-talkie and in a few minutes, another patrol car arrived with a ‘thanedar’ type of police functionary emerging with great confidence. He was shown our magic document by the other policemen, but he too did not know what to make out of it. He went to the hotel reception and got on the internet in some kind of teleconference with his boss. After about ten minutes the police chief of Yengisar arrived, creating a ten-versus-two situation for us to handle, with neither side being able to get across due to the language barrier.

The police chief was given a briefing by the already present policemen, after which he started pacing the lobby, angrily shaking his head from left to right, as if saying, ‘No’. When we told him that we wanted to stay at the hotel just for one night, he again shook his head from left to right, and muttered, “baoqian” (sorry). With no solution in sight, we decided to leave the hotel. All this time the flashers of four police vehicles had the night scene illuminated red and blue for more than a hundred metres around. A large crowd was watching the drama from a distance. As we picked our bags and headed towards the parked bikes, all ten policemen headed by the police chief moved towards us, as if to bid farewell.

The angry-looking police chief again shook his head sideways and repeatedly said sorry, as if to say he couldn’t help us. In the meantime, the hotel manager put me through to a lady who was on the phone on the other end. She could speak good English, and she told me that the police chief wishes to convey his apology for the fracas, and that we can stay at the hotel. This was unbelievable, and for a moment we thought it was a crank call. Soon the hotel manager was all smiles and ushered us in. The police party started to gather themselves and vanished in no time.

The police chief bid us good bye with an angry demeanour, but everything seemed sorted out. As we discovered next morning, a 200-strong high powered delegation of Chinese government officials was staying at the hotel and there was intense security in the city. That is why foreigners were out of bounds at the hotel. We were allowed in only because of the magic document that we had. We also gathered that the police chief had his neural networks wired in reverse! When he was happy, he had a fierce frown on his face, while his anger was displayed with a wide smile. His way of saying ‘No’ was to nod his head up and down, while his ‘Yes’ was a sideways nod. Later, once we figured out this aberration, everything fell in place. When the bloke was saying ‘baoqian’ (sorry) and looking angry, he wasn’t telling us to leave; he was actually apologizing for the confusion, and his angry demeanour was nothing but a sincere intent to smile!

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