Sost to Tashkurgen
We drove for an hour and a half to get to the Chinese customs point, which looked to be set up to be more efficient than the Pakistan border. This was an illusion. For the next 2 hours, we watched 11 officers playing around outside, sharing videos on their phones, etc, as they tried to cure the same boredom as us and occasionally test their authority by playing games with our driver.
When that was over, it was another couple of hours of driving, with a chinese border patrol in our vehicle, before we reached the actual chinese border. In the end, an 8 hour process to cross the border. Not because they were busy. Not because they were understaffed. Just...apparently...because they could.
We are spending the night in Tashkurgen - the border town on the chinese side. Everything is different: the landscape, the people, the language, the food, the money. There is a funny mix of pakistani, han chinese and tajik - differentiated by skin tone, facial features and attire. But they all seem to blend in here more than we do.
Our hotel reception guy is wearing a cap that says "POLICE" on it, but we have the strong impression that he does not collect a pay cheque from them. His side kick is a short, chubby girl with an orange hoodie that says "NAUGHTY" and has a winking smiley face. Neither will give us a key for our room, opting instead to show us to our room every time we want to go there. In other circumstances, I might find this frustrating or unusual, but I've resigned myself to this being normal here.
The night skyline of Tashkurgen makes the town look like its buzzing, lit up by a rainbow of LED lights. Street lamp posts and shop signs are covered in lights. There are three towers visible from our hotel room, fully decorated with flashing lights like a vegas casino or an amusement park. It turns out that they are just nicely decorated cell phone towers (which is funny, considering that I can't seem to get a signal right now).