She was 50-ish, permed, and a Chinese version of Roseanne Barr, replete with wild cackles. She hurtled through along the highway in her green taxi, the fierce hot air blasting in through the windows. Worryingly, Roseanne keep giving me the eye in the rear view mirror. Like an infatuated teenager she teetered and laughed whenever our eyes happened to meet. I lowered the wide brim of my cowboy hat to avoid eye contact. It was going to be another long journey.
Getting to the Narat grasslands in the centre of Xinjiang was proving difficult. The police had said it wasn’t possible. The area was full of innocuous Kazakh nomads, hardly a breeding ground for terrorism, but, hey, by now we were used to the unilateral, undecipherable decisions of the cops in this part of the world during Olympic time.
The night previous though salvation seemed to arrive as we kicked our heels at a bar watching the opening ceremony. A Chinese guy chipped in saying that he could get a car and take us to Narat no worries. Narat was where his girlfriend was and it shouldn’t be a problem. Cool, we toasted this rare bit of good luck over another ice cold Yanjing beer as Yao Ming led out the huge Chinese sporting delegation into the Bird’s Nest stadium to rapturous applause.
As is the way of these things, our man turned up the following day with a car and the driver just happened to be his sister, and the price just happened to be 100RMB higher than originally agreed. Nevertheless, eager to get out of Dodge and onto the horses in the beautiful grasslands we headed out of Yining. It was a relief to be out of the heavily policed city but increasingly I had something else to worry about. Roseanne didn’t exactly beat around the bush. “She wants to f*ck you,” Roseanne’s brother tells me after a couple of hours on the road. He glances at me seeing my surprise and takes it for confusion so he repeats this generous offer, “My sister, she wants to f*ck you.” I demur. It’s hot as hell in the cab, and following this statement the temperature seems to have risen further. We get two thirds of the way to our destination before cops at a roadblock turn us back – no permit, no entry. By now this kind of irritation is so commonplace we take it in our stride. The cab turns round heading back to our nemesis, Yining. Will we ever get out of this Orwellian police state?
Roseanne continues to cackle, glancing up in the rear view mirror, preening herself as she looks my way. Dear God, got me out of here! To compound matters our car overheats twice on the way back. On one such occasion in the middle of nowhere Roseanne, with her considerable girth, tries to pin me against the side of the car. Whooooa, lady! With a deft touch, I pirouette out of her orbit just as she is coming in for her prey. Suddenly I can’t wait to get back to the security of my hotel room in Yining.
Zealots I’ve loved and lost
1 week ago