Looking out at Horgos, a backwater town on the Kazakh border that’s being super changed into becoming a big city by all out fiat.
So this is Horgos: a place that will soon become a city. Or, I should say, return to being a city.
This was once a major stop on the old Silk Road, at the far western fringe of China. Today, it’s on the border of Kazakhstan, and it’s again becoming a place that draws traders from great distances. Only now they’re not coming for silk or tulips or tea, but cheap Chinese mass manufactured goods that they can get slightly cheaper at the free trade zone that straddles the two countries.
This is the view from my window at the Tiandi Hotel, a place that’s full of old Chinese and Kazakh ladies looking to make some pin money by buying clothes and upholstery at the FTZ that they can carry back to their respective cities to sell for a small profit.
I found this place by flagging down a somewhat well-dressed young Chinese guy in the street and inquired as to where he was staying. Eyeballing your target clientele for accommodation and asking them where they’re bedding down is far more of an efficient and effective means of finding lodging than any guidebook or website. He was a student in town for an exam, and he obliged my request by pulling out his key card and letting me read the characters that were written upon it. He said he got a room for 100RMB.
I found the hotel and walked in. The woman at reception was friendly and didn’t give me any flak for being a foreigner. She just glanced through my passport and handed it back without bothering with the registration.
The hotel was big and dirty and sad and lonely. The kind of place where everyone is completely occupied with thoughts or TV — there is little else to be occupied with here. The kind of place where you grab a bowl of dehydrated noodles and a bottle of beer from the confectionery, go to your room, and close yourself in until the next day. Perfect. It had been a very rough day of border crossing. I laid in bed and fell asleep while taking notes.