Monday, July 19, 2010

Borders and Bribes

Another 2 day train. Almaty - Urumqi.

I got lucky this time, the only other foreigner on the train also happened to be in my train car, a young British backpacker. It was great because I hadn't spoken English in about a week (besides to myself) and it was nice to converse again. He's chill and we spent the first night on the train chatting away and sharing stories.

Then we hit the Kazakh border post where an over-enthusiastic immigration officer was quite insistent that my documents were "Ploha" (bad) because I didn't register my visa upon entering the country.

Let's just pause to talk about the absolute stupidity of registration. All the former USSR countries have this ridiculous policy of having this tiny slip of paper that is a registration document - something with your name and shit and you have to get stamped within 5 days of entering the country. If you lose it, you're screwed. If you don't stamp it in every place you stay longer than 72 hours, you're screwed. If you don't register it within 5 days of arrival, you're screwed. For no reason whatsoever other than "because they can". And, it is a useful source of bribes.

I didn't register my Kazakh visa.

I was screwed.

Except - I was on a transit visa and the Kazakh Embassy in London was quite clear is saying I did NOT have to register for a variety of reasons.

Max - the Kazakh border official - thought otherwise.

So, he pulled me into a little train compartment and explained to me that I was totally screwed and would be left at the Kazakh border post having to hitch hike back to the capital to register, be stuck in Kazakhstan for the rest of my life or until I can extend my visa and try again. Of course, he was trying to freak me out and I having nothing of it.

This guy's game was brutal. I saw right through it and have been pressed and prodded much harder by many African border officials, embassy officials and people who extract bribes for a living. So, I remained calm.... I may have agreed to become his second wife and eventually kissed him on the cheek but I was let off with a warning. (hehehe - I can talk my way out of anything - even in Russian).

And then, because it was just soooo much fun the first interrogation, he brought me back about 4 hours later to go through it all over again. At the border post, he guided me through a whole bunch of tiny little offices where he sat me down and expected me to stress out and freak out and give him all the money I had. But, I obviously didn't give in and some more officialdom came in, put the gears to me, said how stupid I was to not register - all the while with me explaining that I didn't have to register and I knew the drill.

In the end - it took a $20 'Thank You' for letting me off with a warning.

I'm good at bribing. My parents must be so proud.


  1. youve always been great at manipulating men. so proud, see you in 2 weeks ! -Lauren

  2. I promise to teach you everything I know ;)