Annie: “They are our leaders.”

Bryan: “Oh, leaders of what?”

Annie: “You know leaders of the PLA.”

Bryan: “Oh, you mean commanders, right?”

Annie: “Yeah, commanders.”

Bryan: “What branch of the PLA are they attached to, infantry, armor, etc.?”

Annie: “No, border guard.”

Bryan: “Oh, what area does he command?”

Annie: “Everything, the Yili Region…all of it”.

Bryan: “wow….”

PLA Colonel: “Have some more rice wine.”

Bryan: “Ok”

And so began a most interesting night in the small Chinese community of Huocheng, Yili Region, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

I’m going to be honest straight away and state that I didn’t maintain much of a journal regarding my travels in Xinjiang…I took a few notes, but that was about it. A combination of two things…the first being that I’m lazy, and the second being that I’m not a big fan of travelogues anyways…I find them really boring.

Over the next few days I’ll probably post the more memorable occurrences, in no particular order.

Huocheng is my director’s hometown. It is a typical regional city/town, designed in a typical cross pattern and circle town centre with the standard abstract sculpture gracing the geographic center. In the case of Huocheng, it is a giant horse perched upon a 10 meter pole…No one I talked to knew what it represented.

I came to Huocheng through Yining City (where I had been for 4 days) via the regional bus transport network…a seemingly disorganized network of hundreds of private minibuses and vans which connect the various smaller countryside communities to the larger provincial hubs. Foreigners do not usually venture out into the Yining countryside…mainly because it isn’t in the Lonely Planet and a foreigner, by himself, in the middle of the winter stood out like a gorilla in the arctic.

“ni mei guo ren ma?” (American)

…were common question. I didn’t have anything that distinguished me as a Canadian.

“wo shi jai na da ren.”

“Ah, jai na da ren.”

My pocket phrase book handled the rest of the conversation. I had a difficult time understanding even the easiest numbers out here…proof that everyone in China speaks a different form of the language.

I was squished into the bus to Huocheng and was deposited thirty minutes later in the town center, where I immediately attracted a crowd of 8 or 10 people, mostly Uyghur and Kazah. Most plain curious, the others trying to sell me something.

My director rescued me about 15 minutes later and we proceed to the Huocheng Fixed Hotel for Overseas Visitors, where I was given an entire wing to myself. My room was just like any hotel room, except the noticeable absence of a phone system. All calls were sent to the front desk, and a runner sent to one’s room.

After spending the afternoon with my director’s family, I returned to the hotel, where I was promptly picked up by the police and escorted to the local police station. This wasn’t a surprise, as I had been told this was going to happen by the hotel staff. At the station I was required to fill out the standard temporary residency forms and explain where I was going and how long my duration would be. Translation services provided by the Chiefs son, who is a geology student at Xinjiang University in Wulumqi.

I was then invited my director to her brother in laws house where a dinner was in progress attended by the top border brass of the PLA. One major, one Lt. Colonel and one colonel. Through Annie’s great English skills, I was able to hold an interesting conversation about Mao, the long march, current military affairs…they really digged the whole Cadet organization we have in Canada and were very keen on informing me about how ‘profitable’ the PLA can be. Dozens of toasts where thrown back and forth…and I drank, way, way too much rice wine and ate way, way too much food…somewhat of a standard practice I am told during the Chinese New Years.

*update* I’ve just been informed that I am not permitted to mention my dinner with the PLA…because all foreigners, especially those out west, are spies…of course…how stupid of me. Whatever, it’s staying up.

One Response to Huocheng

  1. Tracy says:

    Hi, Bryan, seems you did a very interesting thing!

    I’m the girl who met you in the train when you come back from xinjiang.How are you feel now? If the influence leave away from you? Sorry the medicine I give you can’t work.Here’s to your health as soon as possible!

    I have read some of the articles in your website and it really appealing me. I will read more when I have time.

    Have a good day!


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