High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser written in August 2014 for the Tibetan service of Radio Free Asia and published on her blog on August 9, 2014.
In this post, Woeser writes about travelling in Inner Mongolia and can’t help drawing comparisons between Inner Mongolia and Tibet. For example, mining in Tibet is a topic on which Woeser has often written in the past.
The mysterious black car in the post is left unexplained, perhaps only drawing attention to the paranoia that sets in in the reality of her everyday living environment.
“A Black Car without a License Plate”
Only on the fourth day of our travels through Inner Mongolia, on the way from Erenhot to Mandula, we noticed this black limousine without a license plate politely following our jeep. When we drove slowly, it slowed down, too. There were three people in our car. My husband, Wang Lixiong, and the artist Wang Wo took turns driving.
Erenhot and Mandula are both border towns. The day before, we had been to the “border scenic area”, had paid 50 Yuan for a ticket to see the tracks of the Orient Express that extended into nearby Mongolia; I remembered a book about today’s North Korea, in which the scenes of a refugee escaping to Mongolia were depicted. Wang Wo joked that if one hid on a train, one would not need a passport. But the passport-less me would not even be able to get onto a train without being arrested.
The road we had chosen was one that, according to a Mongolian who we had met at a bookshop, was in bad condition, without asphalt and too narrow. And yet, compared to the rugged mountain roads in the eastern Tibetan region of Kham, this one was really quite even. On both sides of the dirt road we saw vast areas of barren land, there was some grass, but not much. The sky was dark blue with only a few clouds appearing on the horizon. It made us who were so used to the smog of Beijing feel carefree and relaxed; this is perhaps why we only noticed that black vehicle when we stopped to film the mining area next to the road.
The mining area consisted of pumping machines on either side of the road, perhaps 45 of them or even more, rhythmically moving up and down. Later I found out online that Erenhot was rich in oil and that the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) had been exploiting this border area for many years.
We walked up to one of the pumping machines and took some photos. The fully automated machine was golden in colour, working accurately and ceaselessly, as if no one could ever obstruct it; it felt like an intense relationship between that machine and the peaceful surroundings. We also found a pale cement monument towering there, on one side it was written: “Safeguard the border, Construct the border”, on the other side it said “Jointly built by military and enterprises, Together creating harmony”. Is it possible that this oilfield is jointly exploited by the military and industry?
That black limousine slowly passed our jeep, which we had left at the side of the road. It did not have a license plate at all; its panes were darkened, so we could not see how many people were sitting inside it. If I had been in familiar Tibetan areas, in Sichuan or Lhasa, I would have thought that these were people from Public Security. In fact, it is mostly Tibetans working for Public Security. But here in the Mongolian hinterland, I was not aware that we three “outsiders” were regarded as sensitive persons.
The black limousine slowly disappeared into the distance. Then staff from the oilfield came driving towards us in a small car. I am not suggesting that they had been called by the black car. They did stop near Wang Wo and said something to him, it made me nervous, but then it seemed that they were friendly. Wang Wo was even smiling and waving at them. “What did they say?”, I asked straight away. Wang Wo was clearly unperturbed: “I asked them whether there was much oil in the ground.”
We continued driving and did not see the black car again. I felt relieved. I am always being haunted by the fact that I am followed all the time, I cannot help it.
Before we arrived at the small town of Mandula, a massive ruin caught our attention and we stopped. The herdsmen living nearby were Chinese migrants who had come 50 years ago because of crop failure and famine; they only knew that these ruins were a monastery that had been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. But I think that it may have been destroyed in 1958 as part of the “religious reforms”. We stayed with the Chinese migrants and talked for a while. An eye-grabbing picture of the newly formed CCP Standing Committee was hanging on the wall, each one of the seven members looked as if they had undergone cosmetic surgery. I thought it was just like in Tibet that these portraits were given from “above” and had to be put up. But one of the herdsmen explained that his daughter-in-law had bought this one herself at the market. He added another sentence, telling me that they did not speak Mongolian, “We don’t need to learn it, Mongolians all know Mandarin.”.