After a good hour standing by the lake hoping to pick up a ride, a bus from Bole, a city an hour down the road, appeared out of the mist and crunched to a halt in the snow. Despite my arguments, the driver wouldn’t take me for any less than RMB40 – daylight robbery for a trip an hour or two down the road, I protested – but since my ears had clearly turned blue and several fingers were about to drop off, I was hardly in the strongest negotiating position.
Rather helpfully, the road to the border had all but been dug up by countless earth-moving machines piloted by dark, moustached men in flat caps. Develop the West! was the slogan found everywhere, written in huge red characters, or carved out of the steep hillsides. This was often alongside Protect our fragile environment! – somewhat ironic given its close proximity to the seeds of a huge new motorway and several open pit mining projects.
We wound down the hill to more temperate surroundings, and before long I had found my berth in the old Soviet consulate in the city of Yining. It’s something of an old state-run dinosaur with entirely ineffectual staff, but we have gardens with life-size plastic deer, so I’m more than pleased.
For a city that played host to China’s last serious bout of separatist unrest, Yining is actually rather pleasant.