The 5KM of neutral borderzone between Kazakhstan and Xingjiang China allowed some dramatic tension to build into this remote border crossing. The monumental and futuro-fort 'welcoming' archway was the first statement of intent; second was the razor wire along the border fence: there was one bale running along the outside, and seven bales stacked in an insurmountable pyramid on the inside; third was the border guards hurriedly jogging their way about the complex - emphasizing the performance of their duty. A line of two tarmacs in the road was the most subtle but powerful sign, one side was old, crumbly and had see a decade of desert weathering, the other was an immaculate black and freshly laid, the road demarcated ambition.
Twice the number of guards meant twice the number of passport checks, for a time the passports were seized and driven in front of us in a smart black saloon car. We followed after it as instructed at full pelt, as greyhounds after the rabbit, our sprint fueled by looming visions of a 'bureaucratic error' and becoming stateless persons. Intriguingly, in Kazakhstan we had counted as neither vehicles nor as pedestrians, yet in China we managed to count as both and so could enjoy the double customs search.
The most noticeable aspect to the guards and officials was a professionalism wedded to a crystalline friendliness. There were no egos or jobsworths, they understood that every extra hassle or search was just that - a hassle, and didn't add any unnecessary layers to the process. Indeed, if this makes any sense, they searched my things as I would have done.
They were equipped with some novel hardware. After putting your belongings onto the conveyor belt into an X-ray scanner, you put yourself on a conveyor too, and were slid sideways through a similar machine to pop out the other end. They had a miniature armoured remote control vehicle the size of a child's sit-in car, seemingly for bomb disposal. Whilst the array of facial cameras at the passport counter would surely have enabled them to recreate my face in 3D. There was a moment of celebration upon clearing the borer, but a very strong recognition that we were entering somewhere operating at a very different level.