Text and photoographs by Dong Fang
“Eren,” meaning “mirage” in Mongolian,provides a fitting name forErenhot, a city in China’s InnerMongolian Autonomous Regionnear the Mongolian border. It is just opposite Mongolia’sZamyn Uud City across the border, and the area’sfrequent sandstorms cause disadvantageous naturalconditions. When one mentions the name “Tuoya,”locals will respond with a “thumbs-up” and insist thatshe is a qualified and responsible customs officer.
Tuoya became an officer at the Erenhot customsin 1999 after passing the civil service examination (thefirst year the examination was offered in the countryas well as the city). Since then, she has been workinghard with persistence, passion and devotion, and haswon awards, trust and praise from leaders as well ascolleagues. In 2005, she was promoted to deputy sectionchief, becoming the youngest person ever to beappointed to the post in the area. After the promotion,she was transferred to the highway customscheckpoint – home of the worst working conditions atErenhot customs. She has fully displayed the desirablequalities of a young officer: quick-minded, drawn tostudies and research, creative and driven. She has beenapplauded for rigorously guarding the “national gate,”offering quality service, and performing above and beyondher job description.
The highway customs checkpoint operates 24hours a day, holidays included, so customs officerswork 10-hour shifts. To relieve pressure caused by ashortage of manpower, Tuoya often voluntarily worksovertime. She is always the first to offer to work holidays,such as Spring Festival, May Day and NationalDay, to let others have time off.
The highway customs checkpoint is not wellequipped with surveillance devices, and other disadvantageousconditions such as bad weather, dense flowof inbound and outbound vehicles during certain timeperiods, and lack of manpower have made the checkpointattractive for smugglers. Also, criminals believethat if they are caught, they can use various relationshipsto get released. If that fails, they often try to offerbribes before simply resorting to threats.