Chased by Chinese Guards

6 AM. My small Moletracks backpack contained all of the necessities for a border crossing – water, crackers, a medical kit for emergency foot blister repair, a map detailed in both Chinese and English, passport, China and Laos visas, Laos guidebook, a change of socks, and Chinese and American currency [in a pinch nearly everyone in the world, except the French, will accept green backs] – total weight 10 pounds.

The plan was simple. Walk the 10 kilometers to the border, cross into Laos, and continue walking to the point where the guidebook said pickup trucks would be waiting to greet weary travelers. Then, I would retrace my route walking in the reverse direction, retrieve my small suitcase stored at the hotel, catch a pick- up back to the border, and continue my journey. [This method allowed me to avoid carrying a heavy back pack].

I saw the border. A thin piece of unpainted wood, similar in size to barriers at American highway toll booths, blocked the dirt road leading from one of the largest countries n the world to one o f the smallest. As if out of a movie, two Chinese army guards dressed in dull grey uniforms, stood at attention casually watching many Laotians pass into China. Their beanie shaped hats had a distinctively red star embroidered on top. Each had an automatic rifle slung precariously on their shoulder which I thought was a Russian made model AK 47

The travelers were tribes people dressed in colorful costumes. The women had adorned themselves with arm bracelets and necklaces. Many carried infants strapped to their backs tightly secured by brightly colored cloth strips. What to do? The make shift gate was open allowing many Laotians to pass unmolested into China. The guards seemed friendly. I smiled broadly as I race walked quickly past them while waving my American passport in one hand and respectfully saluting with the other. I was excited to be officially starting my Laotian adventure. A minute passed then two before I heard the screeching of a whistle. I kept walking until the piercing sound multiplied echoing louder in cadence with each stride.

Nonchalantly, I looked behind me to investigate. Terrified, yet in my own way cool, I froze in my tracks when I saw the two Chinese guards running toward me. They were short and slender. I thought their heavy rifles might make them fall. In seconds they would be upon me. “Smile” my subconscious directed, while I instinctively raised my hands in surrender.Then the guards were upon me. They waived their weapons as a signal that I should turn around and follow them. Dutifully, I obeyed.

The now sullen guards marched me back toward the wooden gate ushering me down a dirt path toward a small building which apparently served as their command center. Weary of their weapons I held my passport high in the air, and inwardly lying, smiled broadly, as an international signal [I hoped] of friendliness.

I stood in front of a long counter. The guards who had escorted me and two others stared at me seemingly trying to determine if I was really a friend. I casually looked at them studying the finely embroidered red stars on their baseball type caps all the while smiling. A thin middle aged man dressed in finely pressed grey army pants and a sleeveless white tee shirt emerged from a back room and marched purposely toward me. “You are in trouble” my gut told me. The solider, obviously the officer in charge of this border crossing, sat down, examined my passport and visa while speaking endlesslyto me, in Chinese a language I have not mastered. “No comprende” I mumbled silently. Exacerbated, the officer wildly rummaged through a desk drawer until he finally located a book. Then attentively while thumbing through many pages he made notes on a thin sheet of paper which he then handed to me. There were two lines of Chinese characters followed by carefully crafted English letters which read “You cannot cross here”

Since the officer had made such an effort to write me a message in English, pressing my luck further, using sign language while showing him my map I enquired wordlessly where I could cross the border into Laos. He indicated a town thirty miles to the east. Undaunted, I bowed, smiled goodbye, and race walked back into the town. Although there was no English spoken, due to the wonderful good nature of the southern Chinese, I located a bus which took me to the border crossing Laos Welcomes Me

Entering Laos from the village of Nanpho, China was uneventful. My documents were checked but it was necessary for security to then ride 5 kilometers to the actual Laos border in the back of a pick-up truck. Once in Laos I was required to take another pick-up to the first Laotian village. I was still headed for route number 322 which would lead me back to the border with China, across Laos, and on to the shores of the Mekong River and the river banks in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

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