I shaved in the morning for the border crossing. Shorn, I look about seventeen and very harmless. Borders always gave me a strange feeling because almost all of the foolishness you hear about regarding foreigners in foreign lands involves border police.
There is a specific border aesthetic. I prefer to cross in my mirrored aviators, raising them only for the brief eye contact that verifies me as the fellow on the passport.
The Chinese guards wore green army clothing with officers caps and dark ties. They stamped my passport and waved me through and I walked my bicycle alongside a dozen empty flatbed trucks in a caravan, bound for the timber beyond.
The Chinese side of the border had been extremely well manicured with islands of lawn and red and green bushes planted in rows along tiled sidewalks. When I walked under the raised toll gate, everything was suddenly overgrown. Ragged weeds spilled onto the pavement and the trees hung thick with vines. It was the no man’s land: three bare kilometers between China and Laos. The first thing that I saw was an enormous bunker with a Communist hammer and sickle on it; it was also overgrown and appeared abandoned. I rode down a twist of hillside and reached a fence; behind it was Laos, hilly and jungle green.
The parking lot had some pickup trucks lined with benches and canopies; boys lounged in the back waiting for the people they would take to the next town. Some children were kicking a cardboard box that had two fat turkeys in it. At the immigration desk, a group of Chinese men stood around. One of them clammed vigorously, puffing out his chest like a rooster about to crow, letting the foamy spit dribble down from his lips to the ground.