Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Lonely yurt

Turns out that Tumur's uncle wasn't Tumur's uncle once more, he was another cousin of his. Actually turns out Tumur's uncle is dead but he was a great man in his time.
So Tumur's cousin came for us in his truck. It was a powerful Korean truck, anything less could not ride through this terrain.

We rode away from the village through the snow. Besides me and Tumur riding in the truck, there was also a boy about twelve, appearently the cousin's son.
When we stopped, there was nothing. White snowy plane and mountains around. Wherever you look, wherever you make your mind wonder, you will find white and rocks. While it is freezing outside and anything that falls from the sky may only be snow or ice, the patch of snow remains thin under our tires. The sky is blue, where could the watercome from in this desertic mongolian steppes?

Why does this man and his family live here? You already feel lost in immensity in the closest village, why isolate yourself even more?
Turns out the cattle needs space to feed. The winter grass doesn't contain a lot of nutriments so they compensate by eating a lot. And it takes a lonely yurt in the middle of nowhere; nothing less, to take care of a whole herd. Everyday the twelve year old boy jumps on his horse and takes the herd to the good patches of grass. The grass can't be too close to the yurt otherwise they would eat everything too fast but not too far either because the physical activity needed to get there would burn out their fat and render the food intake useless.

"My cousin is a very good shepeard." says Tumur and I realize that it is not an easy job; you need a good intuition.
His cousin is taking care of a whole lot of goats, three little yaks and some sheep.
The yurt in the nothingness
It is almost hidden behind the sheep
Four people live there. Tumur's cousin, a man a bit broken down under the weight of loneliness, his wife, a happy gal who can even speak some russian, the twelve year old boy full of life and dreams but who will probably be a sheppard too and a small girl. I think the small girl is the one who illuminates the yurt most.
The smallest inhabitant of the yurt
I spend the day walking around the place, losing myself in the void. I have to be careful about how far I go and for how long I put my hands out of my gloves. If the wind is blowing, I feel my skin burn as I had put an iron on it except it is from the cold.
On the mountain, just above the yurt

I spend 31st of december in that yurt under the stars and woke up on January 1st, 2014.

"Let's see the sunrise," says Tumur.
So we decide to climb on the highest hill in the region, about 2500 meters high and see the sun rise from there. I realized throughout this small trip that this meant more to Tumur than to see a nice landscape. It has a profound meaning, a religious one. One should pray in the rising sun, it is a special moment.
That is why we rushed from one peak to another until we reached the highest mountain, the one from which we could see the landscape to all sides.

Tumur rushing towards the highest peak to see the rising sun
By coincidence from my side, by god's will from Tumur's, the sun rose at the exact moment when we reached that top. And it was really beautiful.

Tumur praying in the rising sun
 As Tumur prayed in the sunrise, I went on jumping on the mountain top. But I really wished for one thing: to return safely to Ulaanbataar to meet Janela.

Me jumping on mountain tops
So we slowly descended the mountain to the yurt one last time, I said goodbye to the family and we went to Tsagaanchuluut.

The lonely yurt
Tomorrow I'll have to get away from this place and I have no idea how. If I don't Janela will arrive in Ulaanbataar alone at 5 in the morning. She will not know anybody, she will be underequipped, she will not know the language. She might underestimate the cold and just freeze there. What have I done?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Mongolian countryside

Written in a yurt in the mountains near Tosontsengel

I decided not to call this post "the middle of nowhere" although it crossed my mind for a number of reasons. The most obvious of those would be that I already have a post with that title.
It is also not entirely true that there is nothing there. If I open my map, 3.5 kilometers east there is the main road. Unfortunately my map is incorrect, the main road is somewhere, where the main road is indicated there is just a patch of snow like any other patch of snow.
I can't blame my map that much because I have seen the main road on my way here. It doesn't look very different from plain nothingness, there are just a bit more marked tire tracks if I was to give the road some credit.
About ten kilometers westfrom here is a village called Tsagaanchuluut. There are about 1000 people living there or so Tumur says but it looks smaller than the village where my parents spend their Christmas with a numbered populaion of 300.
Let's rewind to how I ended up here.

I meet Tumur near Urgoo Cinema in Ulaanbataar, he wants to show me around a bit. He lives with his wife and son. It is his last two days working for a german company and he invites me to his offiece. I can use the internet at will. The next day, we go to the east of Ulaanbataar to some touristic village which is now empty.
Almost empty, to be exact, his german boss lives there, he is the boss of the mongolian branch of GIZ corporation or something like that. He is a joyful guy and only foreigner besides myself whom I meet in mongolia in winter.
We pick the german boss in a nice tourist camp near Ulaanbataar

Luxurious tourist Yurt

We go back to the capital, he lives in a giant appartment because the owners are somewhere else and we have a german lunch with sausages.
"They import all these products from germany." He has a bunch of german sausages, jam and whatever, I am so near to home again.
In the afternoon, we go to the office again, it is Tumur's last day at work, he has to pack his stuff after two years of good and loyal services as a driver and assistant.
Turns out that the car we are driving, the big shiny land cruiser isn't Tumurs but for some reason belogs to the minister of economy and development of mongolia so we have to give the car back to the minister.
After we've done that, I leave for Gebz' yurt where I pack my things and spend the night.
I have to meet Tumur at 12 at his house the next day. Before that, I try to gather the rest of my things at the first family that I hithhiked with. They have my scarf and small jacket. It's going to take every warm thing I have there in the west, it will be very cold. Unfortunately I don't find their house, I almost freeze before that so I get into the first open door that looks warm. It is a hair salon where a bunch of girls pretty as a picture are preparing for new year. They invite me to their home nearby where we have tea, speak englsh and german and then I learn that they are thirteen to fifteen years old, damn makeup, I couldn't tell.
I get to Tumur's place and he already has prepared a bunch of things for me. I can't go like thins, I need more warm things. I get real polar gear this time with a good hat and a winter police uniform. Tumur's wife just takes out the "mongolia police" sticker froom the shhouler of the jacket.
So we are packed and ready, we say goodbye to the internet and pretty much all civilisation we can think of and we take a taxi to the west, where a small blue car is waiting to take us to the countryside.
Before we eave to the countryside.

We are going 100 kilometers west, where the roads stop, where the traffic is sparse and from where it will be difficult to come back. I am starting to wonder wheather or not I am doing something stupid. I might be missing a long awaited and organised reunion with my girlfriend just beccause I want to see the desert stars and sleep in a yurt.
"There should be cars goingto Ulaanbataar," says Tumur, "but for free, I don't know. Why do you insist on not paying anyway?"
I explain to him that it is a principle, the challenge. As a former alcoholic he understands since it is as easy to pay for a ride as it is easy to drink a glass of vodka. First you start paying for rides, it gets confortable and a bus is never to far, tthen you continue on to trains ans planes and before you know it you find yourself in a hotel and you are a traveller no more, you are a tourist.

Tumur says since half of the population is living in Ulaanbataar, pretty much everyone has something to do there so there are cars going to the capital from pretty much everywhere in the country. That contradicts hitchwiki's information that it is extremly hard to hitch in the far west: 2 weeks to get tto Ulaanbataar according to that source, I hope I'll get more lucky. Actually, I really need to get more lucky, I can't miss Janela, that would be too stupid. Atually, there is almost no doubt, this is stupid. What if she isn't late, what if she arrives to mongolia alone with no contacts, what will she do?
I am stupid, so stupid, I don't think ahead, why don't I think ahead? But it is too late to come back on my decision.

We are riding the small blue car, there is not much space in it, barely enough to hold four people and I am sitting in the middle of the back seat. It is not much better than a french twingo and we are going to ride cross-desert with it. The road from Ulaanbataar is really good for one, two, three hunderd kilometers at least. I am starting to think it will be paved all the way. But about halfway to Gobi-Altai starts a dirt road. Nothng to worry about, the dirt road is still good, very good compared to roads in Kazakhstan. Our driver is very slow, he is driving 60 km/h when the other cars go up to 80.

It takes forever driving to that desert and the roads gets slowly worse and worse. However, Kazakhstan still holds the record of worst roads ever. We drive through the night. I am compressed between the passengers, it's really unconfortable but hey, I am going for free, tourists usually pay for that sort of thing.

The next day, in the morning, we get a flat tire.  We change it, the mongols are used to that sort of thing and the road continues. We drive, we drive, it never ends. The next day ends and we still have not reached our destination. We have barely passsed Gobi-Altai. The road is paved again and then it gets worse and then it becomes just a snowy mess which makes our tires spin without any effect.
The next day, we get a flat tire

Our average speed now is 25 km/h so it takes 4 hours from Gobi-Altai to reach Tsagaanchuluut. But we arrive. We arrive at a really big mongolian yurt surrounded by a fence. Inside that fence there is another yurt, a small house and some wooden constructions. The small house is Tumur's cousin atelier, she makes shoes, appearently damn good ones. Turns out Tumur's uncle wasn't really an uncle, his uncle is dead but we came to see his cousin who can't be an uncle of anybody because she is a girl. Everybody welcomes us with a big bowl of horsemeat. I am way beyond being shocked by horse meat or the quantity of fat the whole think contains.
"I thought you europeans didn't like to eat fat," Tumur is surprised.
At that point, I am more mongolian than european, I decided that I like to eat fat. The yurt is spascious it has three beds, a table, a big oven and a lot of furniture along the sides. It also has, as each mongolian yurt, a praying space which is basically a piece of furniture with pictures of the departed, some tibetan scripts and little statues. Everything is miniature in a yurt, even the monastary.
The inside of a Yurt, Tumur's cousin  and her husband in the center

There also is a large flat screen TV and a lot of electric plugs which are friendly to my now very bad tablet charger.
The stars are bright tonight. They are brighter here than in most places I've seen. Maybe not as bright as in the desert that we came trough but still very beautiful.

The next day I go walking with Tumur. He is here to clear his head, away from the worries of the city. And there are only a few better places in the world for that. The city is surrounded by mountain tops; it is small so we easily have a clear view of it and it looks beautiful from afar.
Tumur is almost as amazed as I am, he hasn't been here for twenty years.
walking around the village
Afterwards, Tumur goes to help his cousin make shoes and I go to see a tournament of mongolian wrestling. The principle of that is two people hold themselves by hands, belt or ass and try to throw each other off-balance.
Mongolian wrestling
For some reason, after each match, the two opponents feel the need to slap each other's asses and dance like idiots all over the place. But besides that, it is interesting to watch.
Day after day, I go around the village. The views are beautiful. Everything would be perfect if only I knew how to get back. I see some cars departing somewhere but each goes to a different direction. That's when I realize that in Mongolia, there is no defined road. The road indicated on my map as the main road is merely the suggested way and cars are free to take any other path. And they do. Therefore there is no place to stand to hitchhike the huge flow of cars.
This is how the village takes water

Besides these worries I meet the villagers. In this forgotten place there are some tourists from time to time in the summer. But in winter, there is no one. So everybody stares at me as I have landed on the moon. And actually I do feel as far away.

Tumur's cousin is a renowned shoe sewer. She has a huge and deep scar accross her face. A long time ago, she has been attacked by a wolf. He jumped at her throat but she managed to protect her artery by putting her arms around her neck. The wolf then bit her face leaving this deep mark.
"Wolves are very strong and smart," says Tumur, "do not think you could fight off a wolf."

Tsagaanchuluut at night

 New year is approaching and there is a celebration in the city center. The stars are bright as everynight and the lights are playing through the dark space as it were a giant plaground.

City center, inside is the new year spectacle
The new year speactacle is a mix of music and dance. Looks like every mongol in ten is to some extend a talented artist. I should make something clear to avoid confusion: Mongols celebrate new year whenever they want. Some do it on December 31st, some do it on december 30th, some on 21st, whenever they have time. This village is celebrating on December 30th.

My friend tumur in traditional clothing, only outfit that truly allows to fight the cold
We go back to the yurt, under the stars.
"Tomorrow we go see our uncle, he kind of lives in the middle of nowhere," says Tumur.
"I thought this was the middle of nowhere"
I guess there always is a bigger void.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Degrees of separation

Written in a car crossing the desert towards a village in western mongolia.

I was going to get some things in the first family's house. They have washed my stuff and I am supposed to go there get it. But on the way I meet a guy, his name is B., he is about fifty and he speaks russian. He and his friends are celebrating new year ten days early because they don't have time on 31st. He asks me if I want to come with him so I go. The party takes place in a big place: Zalum21 no alcohol disco club it says on the building. So it is a big party without a drop of vodka, I guess the drunk mongolian myth is still dead. Armenia still has the first place in drunkenness.
They serve deliscious food and there are also lots of fruits.
Yes, it's explicit

Some of the people from the party

Mongolians do dance

And I get free lunch

People sing and dance. Mongolians know how to dance, and real two people dance. I am invitated to dance some variation of waltz which I don't remember so I switched to my favorite four-step rock in the middle of the song. The girl was surprised but she followed. Some people spoke english, a lot of them speak russian. There was a music teacher with a jealous husband who thought we were getting along a little too well. I later came to know that she was fifty, I could have sworn she is just a bit older. Mongolian girls are realy wonders, I will say it one more time, there is no point of looking for love in Europe, unless maybe you live close to Scandinavia.

And there I meet Po, a guy in his fifties very happy and expressive who also speaks russian. Turns out he is a member of alcoholics anonymmous and so is B.. Po says that I should be careful when staying with people who I find through the internet and I am invited to stay at his house. But only tomorrow, today I stay with B.. B. lives with his parents and sometimes his son comes to visit him. His mother is really sick, we hear she is in pain from time to time. He shows me videos from Suzie Quatro, his favourite singer. I don't think any Kyrgyz or Kazakh asian male would have such a strong female character as a role model. Mongolia has a modern mentality.
The sight of my clothes doesn't really reassure B. ans his family. I get pants and gloves. Good thick gloves! Perfect!

The next day I sleep at the Yurt again. There are rules at sleeping in the Yurt. We wake up at six o'clock and I am responsible for most of my food though the wife brings me stuff to eat from to time. That is very fair, the mere fact of accepting my couchsurfing request is a miracle since in my experience, couchsurfing almost never works.
It's Gebz' birthday today but it actually is like any other day since Gebz says that everyday is his birthday.

The next day it's really cold. I can't even walk a few kilometers without starting not to feel my fingers and toes. My face also is numb. Freezing freezing freezing, every now and then I need to find a shelter. I spend ten minutes here and there in a shop or some random heated place. The temperature is so extreme that if I didn't do that I could have serious injuries from the cold. It is almost minus thirty in the morning and ten degrees less at night.

I take my tablet out for short periods of time. I must take my gloves off to operate it and that's enough time for my fingers to freeze. The tablet is strong and works perfecty under these extreme temperatures. However, I must be careful of not putting it out in the heat of a home after carrying it on the street. The temperature change makes the tablet's screen wet and creates many parasite contacts which contaminate the touch capability of the screen. So I can't use it until the tablet warms up to the inside temperature.
At last, I make it near Po's address or at least to the nearby bus station where I am freezing wondering wheather my fingers will last long enough for me to find him. On the street, nobody has heared about Po, I wonder if I am on the right place.
Turns out that I am, Po is a nickname that alcoholics anonymous use so no wonder nobody knows him. He finds me and I come to his place. I didn't eat since yedterday noon, I couldn't buy anything because I didn't exchange my money yet and I still need to get my simcard.

I get a huge mongolian lunch at Po's place. He is living with his wife and wife's sister. The sister is always sleeping. She just lies on the bed there, in the middle of the day.
"Is she sick?"
"No she just likes to sleep"

Po operating my tablet

In the afternoon we go to Po's office. He is a construction technician and has just recieved a whole lot of furniture from china.
"Chinese shit. But we have to assemble it."
There are some people there who have already started. All friends from Alcoholics Anonymous who are eager to help a friend in need as he has once helped them.
"Es gibt kein biltplan. Wir sind das biltplan." (There is no build plan, we are the build plan) says one of the people. He speaks german and turns out that he is the son of a famous personality but since my blog is public, I won't disclose any specifics.

Being the son a famous personality is not easy. You can't live by your father's standarts, they are just too high. Tsoo also had and kind of always has obligations related to his dad's celebrity. Taking part in dinners and various invitations, that kind of stuff. And Tsoo had money, women and his own company. But in a short time everything I just mentioned dissolved into alcohol. The company went bankrupt, the money dissapeared and Tsoo, despite of being rich and indirectly famous ended up on the streets. That makes me wonder that it can really happen to anyone.
But then he stopped drinking and reconstructed his life. He is not rich anymore but he has a house and he has a life. And that, he says is more important than dreams of grandeur. Dreams of grandeur can be good but may destroy you when combined with too much ego and ignorance.

It is the tragic story of many former alcoholics. Alcohol combined with ego leads to doom.
I eat lunch with Tsoo. We don't have forks or chopsticks (in mongolia people eat with both) so we eat it with some folded business cards. Tsoo is a funny guy full of life, I like him a lot.
"You can go live at my place. I'm there alone, lots of room so you can come there with your girlfriend if you want"

Besides Tso, I meet some journalist who speaks russian and Tumur who speaks english and german. All these people have lost their lives to a certain extent but have managed to recover to reasonable living standarts. Some have lost their families, some have lost their wives, some have not.
We are assembling the chinese shit until night and Tumur is running from corner to corner with different tools, working like a machine. Him and Tso are the top workers. Po is sitting there with a great smile drinking coffee.
"That's hard work!" he says and bursts into laughter. Po always bursts into laughter.
"I am going to west mongolia at the end of the week." says Tumur, "wanna go with me?"

Janela is going to be late anyway, in fact I am starting to doubt that she is going to come at all given the problems she is facing on her end. So why not, why not go, I'll be back before she comes.
It grieves me a bit that Tumur is going to west, it feels like going back but it is a unique chance for me to see the mongolian countryside. Tumur has an aunt and uncle living in a village called Tsagaanchuluut which means white stone in mongolian and that's probaby all there is. Hitchhiking to mongolia in winter is already cool but how cool would it be to hitchhike not only to the capital but to the middle of nowhere, somewhere where people will tell you that you can't even get by bus, you have to take a paid tour.
Well I am going there with Tumur, about 1000 kilometers west of Ulaanbataar and I am going to see the desert stars.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Mongolia, I love you

As I can maybe say that China was my worse country, Mongolia is on the way of becoming my best country though maybe it is just by contrast after being through China.
We ride through the desert at a fast and confortable speed.
"They just finished to build the road, all the way between Erenhot and Ulaanbataar is paved since end of October 2013."
Am I not lucky...
So no ride through the desert, no overheating jeeps either and no jam-packed cars. We are riding a minibus with only 4 people in it: The company director, and a man and his wife. The company director and the man are in the front seats, the wife has the whole three seats which serve as bed and I have another three seats where I can sleep in peace.

Zamyd-Uyd->Ulaanbataar, most comfortable ride from the whole trip. That's ironic. Not a glass of vodka either, those people don't drink.
I am discovering that mongolia, despite being a touristic country is kind and welcoming. The people I ride with want to know where I am going to sleep.
"You know this guy over the internet?" they ask when I tell them about couchsurfing.
They call some contacts, get me a place to stay at the french embassy, just in case and nobody even mentions a hotel.
pollution in ulaanbataar at night

They also call Begz, my couchsurfing host, ask him is he can really host me and wheather everything is allright. They don't take any chances of letting me loose in the cold.
As we enter Ulaanbataar I make another life discovery: I have never seen pollution before. Ulaanbataar is a polluted city, really polluted. Not only because the chemical anaysis say so but because you can see and smell the pollution. We ride into a cloud of smoke. There is an atmospheric border of Ulaanbataar. Before, the air is clear, after, it is like lighting a campfire inside a closed room. You breathe smoke. You don't see very far because of the smoke. And you really smell it. Every single house or yurt (actually there are many people living in a yurt in the capital) is heated by coal and it will soon be -30 so yes, people heat a lot.
We arrive at the boss' house and meet more shiny happy people. We get dinner there and internet and whatnot.
boss nd family in UB center

After a while, they say it is too late and I am to come home. We have a second and third dinner, I meet the extended family members and get a first choice place on the couch. They live in a luxurious house in the American neighbourhood of Ulaanbataar. They used to live more traditionally, in yurts but the man had a dream, to get out of the pollution and reach a relative comfort... the eurostandart as the Kyrgyz would call it; and he achieved his dream. Today, he lives in a nice house with his family, he doesn't have to go outside at -35 to go to the toilet or boil the water everytime he wants to wash his hair. He doesn't have to breath the polluted air of Ulaanbataar. The pollution is actually very local, you enter the smog like you would go through a gate and you exit it just as easily: a few kilometers north of Ulanbataar the air is fresh and clear as in the wild of mountains.

"You can't go out in these clothes," says the man. He gives me his warm coat and some isolation to put into shoes so my feet don't freeze. But the coat, that's a precious thing. It is one expensive thing that I couldn't buy and one of foremost importance too.
"We sleep until late," says the wife, "but feel free to help yourself to the fridge as much as you like. Sorry, I am not such a good housekeeper."
Help yourself to the fridge, that's about the optimal thing you can say to me if you know me; I don't need anything else for happiness.
I am surprised by the impression the mongolians make: I expected a poor, underdevelopped nation with conservative principles and middle-aged ways, a bit like Kyrgyzstan but it is quite the contrary. Mongolians are modern, educated, open-minded, I would almost say they are european in a number of ways but they are very hospitalable which makes a big difference. The place of the woman is much different from the one in Kyrgyzstan. She is closer to equal with the man and both voices count in the decision-making process. Divorce is not a taboo thing, religion is free and atheism is widely tolerated.
Mongolian girls have reached the peak of female perfection in every way: they are asian, as beautiful as the kyrgyz but untied by religion and as liberated as the russians. Moreover, Mongolia is the only country so far where english is not completly a coded language.
I meeta relative of theirs who's about 20, she studied in the states and knows perfect english. She designs clothes, says interesting stuff and I just think that I love Mongolia.
I ask them their opinion of the Chinese, do you think the Chinese are evil?
"They are not evil... they are just a little slow."
"Yeah, a bit dumb, it takes them a while to figure out the obvious"

I remember the many times where the good chinese people tried to find a housing solution for me, standing right in front of their house before leaving me in the cold, genuinly concerned for my well-being but not seeing any alternative on how to save me.
So I think the mongolians couldn't put it more right: "the chinese are a little slow".

I wonder how it's possible that bright people such as Mongolians have constructed such a mess of a country and a dumb people such as the Chinese have built such a superpower. But then again, individual ants don't have to be smart to build great things. Of course, that classification does not apply to all the people I met, I have met some great chinese people which you can read about in detail in the blog; yet it is more of a general impression.

The next day, they drive me to the bus station nearby which lives my couchsurfing host. They insist on taking me all the way to his yurt which turns out to be impossible because the road has frozen and is slippery beyond measure.
Begz lives in a traditional Yurt in the Ger district of Ulaanbataar. In Mongolia, living in Yurts is still common and it is so imprinted into the culture that they have many yurts even in the capital.
Small yurts, big yurts, yurts with or without electricity, running water, internet.
Begz lives in a yurt with electricity and internet. Actually, he has two yurts. One for the children and one for us. Near the Yurt is a small wooden house with cattle, eleven cows. Everything is in a nice traditional mongolian lifestyle. Everything besides the main Yurt's decoration which is a giant commercial for the American company Herbalife. The contrast is really interresting. Traditional mongolian lifestyle and american corporation two in one.
Children in Gebz yurt

Let me explain a little bit. Gebz is a happy mongolian guy who likes to try new things. He likes and respects his traditional lifestyle but as many mongolians are, he is open to new horizons and that is a quality which makes mongolia unique. Today the new horizon is an american company. It has worked for him, he believes in it so why not. Every morning we wake up with propagation material made by herbalife, herbalife videos, herbalife music. The family drinks herbalife, eats herbalife, washes with herbalife and basically lives herbalife. The chairs are herbalife, the decoration of the yurt is herbalife and there is a big picture of Mark Huges, the CEO of herbalife on the wall. Every morning, I have a cup of herbalife tea.
Appearently, the family lives a happy herbalife life and they are happier and better than before and Gebz feels the need to share the healthy lifestyle with the world. Anyhow, everybody has a choice and I am not forced into anything. Gebz is a true democrat.

The way to mongolia

Umer lets me go with a worried face: "don't die man!", he says. That's a nice advice, I will try to take it seriously.
I walk to the main road and stand with the prepared sign: gao su gong lu: highway. First hitch on my map.
I stop a car pretty fast and get to the toll station. It's not Beijing anymore; here; everybody helps me. The problem is nobody is going my direction, everything goes to the capital again. I end up stopping a van to the gas station. Second hitch on my map.
There, I get a truck to Hohhot, third hitch. He leaves me near Pingdichuan, now I have to hitch through the city.
I get a car to north jinning, 5th hitch. I get a second ride to the toll station. On the highway, I get a bus straight to Erenhot! I have made it!
Even though the driver is keen to help, the bus lady responsible for the money collection is against it and they leave me in Bayinchangan 40 kilometers on there. The upside is that I am now on the only road to the border, no more accumulation of cities. However it is late and I only make it to Zurihe. One guy despeately tries to find me a housing solution. He stops 50 meters from his house, tries to find me hotels, hostels and whatever and when I refuse everything he leaves me in the cold with a sad face. The next car leave me in the freezing cold of the night. Now it is rough.
the sun has set and the temperature is dropping quickly. I can't put my hands out for more than a few seconds. I do not have gloves. I am cold, my feet are freezing, I have to find a way to spend the night and a tent is just not going to cut it.
There is a shop built next to a house and a veranda in front of the whole thing. The veranda recieves enough heat from the rest of the construction to let me spend the night without freezing
"Can I put my tent on your veranda?"
"This is not a hotel"
And she leaves me in -18 degrees celsius without further thought.
I knock on another house, the situation repeats. The guy doesn't even talk to me, he slams the door in my face.
Chinese hospitality hello! It was nice to help me in Beijing but I would have survives in the capital. It is now that your help is really needed.
"What are you doing?" asks some guy after I make my way to another residence.
I explain my situation trough my tablet, I try to write as fast as I can because my fingers freeze at each letter. I can't type with my hands in my pockets, unfortunately.
The conversation last for a good five minutes and after he says: just come in. It doesn't make a lot of sense to him to let me into his house but it doesn't make a lot of sense to let me die of cold on his doorstep.
His house has three rooms, two of them which are heated by coal. The third one is a storage room. They are both catholics and tell me that they took me in because they believe in god and that I should be grateful to god and to them.
They have pictures of the pope on the walls and cross themselves before eating.
At one point, the guys looks and me and says, or to be more precise, writes:
"What do you teach you have no faith?", says my tablet.
That is rough. I remember that catholics can be more extreme than muslims in many cases although common thought suggests different.
"I have faith. I believe in god and I read the bible a little bit. But I do not go to church every sunday." That's a reasonable answer and it's not really a lie. After what happened to me I am starting to wonder if some kind of god really exists. But I am not catholic.
"你应该相信天主教是真正的,如果没有信仰人不会有好心" says the guy and "You should believe that Catholicism is true, if no faith people will not have good intentions"
"你应该相信今天是天主让我收留你你不要感谢我应该感谢天主" (You should believe Today is God let me shelter you do not you want to thank should I thank God, tablet traslation)
I don't know if he is looking to start a conflict but I don't want to risk to be thrown outside because of religion. But I'm pretty sure that almost every religion advises to give hospitality without further expectation. Weird people but they have a kind heart.
I get dinner and then: "我明天早上五点出" (I tomorrow morning five points out, says tablet). That is the kind of translation I have to cope up with everyday.
I believe that means that at 5 in the morning I have to be out of here so waking up at 4:30 AM. Not much of a night and I believe 5AM is the lowest temperature peak but I still get to spend a good part of the night in the warmth of a house and that counts for something.
The inside is warm and cosy

I wake up in the morning, it is dark and freezing outside. My host tells me:
"我一会送你去别人家坐,,一会等到天亮了以后你再走,,我去集宁" (I will send you go to others hotels sit,, a while wait until dawn after your longer follow the,, I went to Jining)
I guess he is sending me to some friends until the temperatures become reasonable again. I really hope that these hotels are just a bad translation of the chinese word 家 (jia) which can mean home or family as well.
Turns out I am right, there are no hotels in this town anyway. And turns out that this idea of his is no luxury. The friends live less than a kilometer away and I already can't feel my face when we get there. What would I have done walking three hours outside until the air warms up to a reasonable level?
Instead, I went to a nice family, also catholic with the pope's pictures everywhere and I got a huge breakfast.
At daybreak, about 7:30, I went on the main road. It was still freezing beyond measure; my feet and my face got numb in no time.
Not many cars on the road but still, about one every ten minutes.
One, two three, ten cars see me freezing on the street in this crazy temperature. There are two times of chinese. The ones who make a detour around me, may I freeze to death for what they care. These are the kind ones. The second type of chinese also lets me freeze to death but is ready to run me over if I don't get out of the way fast enough.
We are approaching mongolia, we are approaching russia, we are approaching vodka

At last, a car stops. They get me to Sahian Tal, the last town before Erenhot.
From them I convince some truck drivers to take me to the city. It is a good move, they are about the only cars on the road. Erenhot is a nice city and it is also very cold. I hitch through it and here I am, on the border.
China obviously doesn't give a shit about this border as it didn't give a shit about it's border with Kazakhstan.
The border is guarded by two mongolian officers who speak chinese, at least one of them, the other appears to be mute. Why are mongolians guarding the border from the chinese side, I don't know.
Some guy goes on to me and tries to sells me a place in his car for 80 yuan. The price is so high by my living standarts that I don't understand that he tries to sell me a place in his car, I think that he tries to hook me up with a prostitute for the disrespectful price of 0.8 prostitute. I refuse, telling him that I already have a girlfriend which he doesn't understand because he is trying to sell me a place in his car.
"Ok, 50! 50! Mongolia!"
"What? You're selling your girls for 50 yuan, two times less than in Beijing just because they are mongolian? Don't you have any shame? Leave me alone!"
And I start walking towards the border.
The mongolian mute guard makes me understand that I can't walk: I have to take a taxi through the border.
"Is the taxi free?"
"I am not paying for a taxi"
He doesn't seem to care about whatever I say or my reasons are. He just won't let me pass. I strongly believe that people who blindly follow rules have to be faces with a dilemma. I believe that following rules is not an excuse, not a good thing, it is a potentially dangerous behaviour. In my opinion, a person who became a robot by following rules is more a criminal than a victim. That person is responsible for his or her behaviour because he or she chose the easy path: follow instead of think and we were all born with the ability to think. Therefore, every person who is following rules in a way that affects others (this is even more true for police officers) should be forced into a situation in which every choice his makes breaks a rule he or she is supposed to defend.
That way people don't become robots.
"How can I enter mongolia? All these cars want money and I do not have money?"
No answer. I have no money, then I should stay in China. Unfortunately, that option breaks another rule.
"My chinese visa will expire if you do not let me enter Mongolia. I will be here illegally."
The officer is really annoyed. They usually get annoyed when you force them to think. You can see that they really don't like it. Since they don't have a lot of thought practice, it is easy to read right through their mind: If I have to detain this guy, this involves a lot of work and paperwork and I don't want to do it. If I have to get him trough that border that also involves work, damn, a bit less though. Effing asshole, why is he making me do this? Why can't he take a car like everyone else. Just leave me alone!
The other border guard shows me his wallet about a hundered times: "we need money". He thinks that I don't understand what is money. He shows me mongolian money, chinese money, dollars.
"You have yuan? You have turik? You have dollar?"
Maybe the concept of not having money is too hard to grasp. After a while he tries to convince some taxis to take me for free. They all refuse. They are trained to rip off tourists, not to help them out.
At last, he comes to a compromise with one of the taxi drivers. The taxis are not the yellow new york cabs, there are old soviet jeeps jam-packed with people and luggage on the roof. The guy opens the driver's front door: "get in"
I can't seem to understand, there is absolutly no space there. There are about twelve people in the jeep including the driver and where should I sit.
He points me at the void besides the drivers front door. I am to ride on the open front door on the driver's left, holding my bag somehow.
This is crazy like from a hollywood movie but that's exactly what happens. I am hanging from the car on the soviet open door which is hanging only losely from the side, holding my bag in front of me. My hands are freezing in contact with the cold metal, I still don't have gloves. I manage to put socks on my hands trying not to fall down from the riding car. Meanwhile, the driver asks me for money. Seriously, that guy has no shame, how can you ask for money for that kind of service? You really have to be Chinese to behave like that.
That experience proved how the blind following of rules may become stupid and result in situations which the very rules were supposed to avoid.
The official and perhaps initial reason why these rules were created was: security and safety.
But I am not convinced that hanging around from a riding soviet car's open door is safer than walking accross the border.
The first car leaves me in front of the chinese side of the border where I get my exit stamp.
There are some people waiting in line, mostly mongols, some chinese; I am the only real foreigner.
I need to find a pen to fill out my departure form.
"Gavarite parusky?" I ask without any real hope. Just to know more about the mongolian language situation.
"Da gavariyu; i tozhe po anglisku znayu"
Oh my god. I completly forget about the departure form. Mongolians speak russian and not that few of them also speak english. That is a dream. I need to go to mongolia now.
The jam-packed taxi with which I've gotten to the first border control has left, he didn't wait for a client who doesn't pay and I am not too dissapointed, hanging out from a soviet door is a bit too much, even for me.

I start talking with some mongolians, they are very happy and extremly friendly people. One of them really tries to help me. He finds me a shared taxi ride. Some russian-speaking mongolians who have an empty space in their taxi. They convince the driver to take me for free. The guy who found these people also said that he is going to Ulaanbataar the same day, he will see if they can find a place for me. That would be a miracle. That would also mean hitchhing a ride in no-man's land.

Our taxi driver is a crazy, happy and energic chinese girl. She has sunglasses and a big smile and she drives her big soviet jeep as she was on a car chase. Actually I wouldn't be surprised if she was in some real car chases before. She breaks, goes left, tight, the car shakes, everything is fast and you just feel the control she has over the machine.
Some people change cars, there is something going on, I don't really understand what.
"Go go go!" she cries as we run into the car again and pass the security border check: Yes!
We are greeted by a border customs officer who turns out to be a relative of the family he is transporting. He seems to be interested in my trip and is also very happy and friendly. All the mongolian people just laugh all the time for most of the ride and it creates a nice atmosphere.
I get invited to a nice mongolian restaurant. They eat with forks and chopstics it's kind of transitional between Kazakhstan and China.
Our chinese driver says goodbye to us. She isn't an asshole taxi driver like the other ones, she seems to be more of a friend of the family. We unload the cargo, put it in another car and she rides away.
It's not a family actually they are members of the same company based in the capital and they have bought a million things for Christmas in China.
And they take to me Ulaanbataar. For free. I can't believe it. My plan has worked. At least my half of it. My girlfriend has yet to come.
Moonrise in the desert

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A bold plan

I cannot continue much longer without warm clothes. I have explained why in my previous article about my travelling philosophy. I kind of expected someone to offer them to me in China. After all, it is the country where they make them, where they are the cheapest and at where people have a higher living standard than the countries that I visited before. But that was before I discovered what was China and I quickly understood that there is no room for charity here. The kind roommates in Beijing where a bright exception in the darkness and I got even got a coat from Chun Su. I like it very much, it makes me look clean and civilised which will be of the topmost importance when hitchhiking in Japan. However the little additional warmth it provides is not enough to face the cold on my path. That is why me and my girlfriend made a plan. Janela managed to get days off in the beginning of January. She will take the trans-mongolian train to Ulanbataar and we will see each other again after a long wait. And she is bringing me warm clothes.

From my end, I need not only to make my way to Erenhot only with my only slightly improved summer equipment but I need to go all the way to Ulaanbataar. I can't afford to sleep outside for a single night, I would freeze. I can't affort to wait oustide for long periods of time in the early morning or evening, I would freeze.
Mongolia is a hard country to hitchhike. There is next to no trafic and so far, the hitchhiking situation has only been documented during the summer. There is just no information about hitching in Mongolia in winter because nobody has been crazy enough to try it. Yet.

"Expect flat tires, overheating jeeps and not much more than 100km a day, due to the lack of traffic, and extremely poor condition of the roads." says the good old hitchwiki.

Overheating jeeps, I guess that is one problem that I don't have to worry about, it will be -30 degrees for most of my way. The description goes on.

"There is next to no traffic on the major thoroughfare across the southern part of the country. People are mostly, quite willing to pick you up, but there just aren't that many people. Walking sometimes staves off the boredom of just sitting and waiting. There are just a couple hundred km of paved road from Ulaanbaatar in every geographical directions (exactly one per direction) and that's it. No roads, no signs."

I guess walking won't only be useful for boredom but for much needed warmth for survival.

It is ironic that in order to get warm I need to go into the coldest capital city in the world. But you know what? I really think I can do it.
I spend the day planning everything. The student appartment has everything I need for my preparation, most importantly, internet. First I need to plan my hitchhiking spots. I am in Zhangjiakou now, I need need to get to the border and I need to get there fast. The border is 500 kilometers away from here and the main traffic flow doesn't go my direction, unfortunately. Actually it goes back to Beijing. It is almost the winter solstice, I only have a little time. 500 kilometers, that's 8 hours of hitchhiking if I am lucky. After looking at satellite imagery over and over again, looking for gas and toll stations, I come out with the following plan:
I leave from home at 7 AM. I get to my hitchhiking spot, 1 kilometer east, on a big road going out of the city. From there, I try to hitch to the highway about 5 kilometers south. There is a toll station there. This is my second hitchhiking spot. From that toll station I try to hitch the intersection. Four highways go from there and only one goes into the right direction.
When I get to the intersection, I walk 5 kilometers west, there is a gas station. There, I try to find truck drivers to Jining, next big city on my way. I will be dropped south of Jining. I have to cross it, about 10 kilometers in the northern direction. I don't have time to walk, I have to hitch through it. That means I have to hitchhike inside the city. It has worked before. Once I get to the north, I have to hitch the highway and when I am on the highway, I just catch a ride to Erenhot and that's it. I am out of the woods. At lease until I arrive to Erenhot, I have no idea where I'll sleep there but that's in a long time.
Seems hard already? It's not finished.

"Most Mongolians, in the south, don't speak English, and only have the slightest understanding of Russian, but you can get along with hand gestures."

I've seen how the hand gestures work in China. I need to find a mongolian dictionary. I spend some time on google play. Not done yet. Temperature is -29 in Ulaanbataar, I need a place to stay there. Permanently. I need to wait for my fairy.
I send a million messages to couchsurfing. Precisely twenty people. I need hosts for almost two weeks, a single person is not going to cut it. But my request is not completly usual, I am looking for a couch for a reunification. I hope this can move some minds? Three replied. Two negative and one positive.
But the one who replied solved everything.

"I hope, if you want and if you can, you can live with my family until you meet with your girlfriend?"

Begz lives in the Yurt camp, a huge residential area in Ulaanbataar where people still live in Yurts. I will be living in a traditional mongolian home for two weeks until my fairy comes. There is still the problem of how to spend my night on the border which needs solving and also how the hell do I get to Ulaanbataar but I'll figure out on the way.
Now I am really tired, I just have to lie down and sleep. Tomorrow we will see how everything turns out.
Preparing signs

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The pakistani haven

After planning my way out of Beijing through the toll station and writing a goodbye letter I start hitchhiking on that pay toll at about 4PM. That means an hour until dark. My hitchhiking soon gets interupted by the toll guards who tell me it's not possible to hitchhike on the highway. They call the police but the police never comes and you can feel the decision-making despair on their faces: they are only trained to follow and now they are helpless.
One of the toll station ladies is quite touched by my stories and tries to stop cars for me since I don't get to do it but her coworker stops her: "don't go there, it is... illegal".
Some lady who is half police, half random guides to to another toll station situatied not on the highway but on the side road which joins the highway at some point.
I finally get a lift... to the north of Beijing. Some family is going home and decides to take me with them. Appearently, the chinese are way kinder in the civilized provinces than in rural areas.  I am sleeping about 10 kilometers north of my Beijing friends. If something goes wrong, I can be there in a few minutes by metro. But they promise me to drive me to the highway at 7 AM so I will have a long hitchhiking day, I can be sure to make it to Zhangjiakou.
My host home 10 kilometers from my friends 

Not many people eager to pick me up but a bus saves me. Buses save me very often in China. The bus goes all the way to Zhangjiakou so I have won for the day. Easy. But today is far from being the easiest battle, Zhangjiakou is only here to serve as a base camp for the real journey: to Erenhot.
I get to Zhangjiakou at 9:30. God it's cold! I thought it would start to chill when I'll enter Inner Mongolia but I already can't put my hands out of my pockets for too long.
It must be -5 during the day and wind.
Zhangjiakou, freezing

Umer, the guy who accepted to host me has been up all night last night and is still ready to help. I wonder what kind of Chinese person would come to such extremes to help others. I get the answer when he comes to greet me near the bus station: He's not chinese, he is Pakistani.
We share stories, turns out the decision to go around and not through Pakistan was founded, it's really dangerous out there. He shares the same dissapointment as me about China on almost every level: sure humanity has died in China. However I disagree about chinese food.
Chinese food and chopsticks are two wonders are two wonders that I won't ever criticize.
Umer lives with roommates one of which isn't there yet. Umer and his remaining roommate are so welcoming that I almost feel as in Beijing. I get my own room and internet and food and time.
I rediscover the dearly missed Kazakh tea with milk. The pakistani version is even better.
As everyone is telling me in the last few weeks, he says that my warm clothes are not enough. It is reckless to go north dressed like this. He worries that I'm going to freeze and that's a touching thought since he only knows me for a day. But I am leaving only for one or two days. I enter and exit mongolia and then I'll be in the warmth of Beijing again. At least that was the plan before.
In the evening my girlfriend calls. And we make another plan.

Friday, December 13, 2013


I have often heard about these people which tell you that they have the most wonderful roommates in the world. Many people just like to say that because it sounds cool. But I really had the best roommates in the world in Beijing.
I explained how I travelled, how I just lost my blog and needed time to recover it and found infinite understanding on their part.
"You take your time and repair your blog," said Chao Su. And they really give me space to do it.
They are here when I need them, they leave me alone when I need to work, they have true respect and compassion about who I am and what I do.

At lunchtime, Ivy, one of the three girls starts hysterically waving at me.
"Filiiiip hello. Now we eat okkkkk? Che-faa! Me cook"
"Do you want help?"
She shows me how to cut some meat and screams everytime I accidenty point a knife in her direction. She's funny, hyperactive and always laughing. Her high-pitched voice sounds hysteric when she speaks in Chinese and she tries to do everything at the same time. She studied to be a lawyer but she ended up working in a library which also rents movies.
Breakfast and Ivy

She speaks some english, it is very basic but still a million times better than my chinese. She has a boyfriend who is also very funny, he is a designer for National Geographic and also fights with swords.
The other girl brings dumplings. The food is very good and comes from all sides. The other girl is different from Ivy and I like her very much too. She is the kind of person who is programmed to have her own way but tries very much to be kind and understanding to others. She also have a funny way of handling social relations. She's fun, curious and likes to connects but she's like a battery. You see that long social contact drains her out, she needs to recharge to be socially active again.
That's fine with me because I also function like that. In the evening, we go buy food to the local shop. It's also her local best friend's birthday and we have to hurry to preapare something.
"We have to cook, we have to make a cake, we are late"

Screw making a cake, we have to buy a cake but it's really a classy one. We celebrate a birhtday with candles and wishes. The chinese like their fireworks to they have a very complex singing candle with pyrotechnics. The only problem is that the candle never stops singing even when we try to kill it with water.

Chao Su knows a lot about chinese history and he is really good at talking about it. The quick story is that one day China was big and strong and ruled by the Han chinese dynasty but then there was a revolution, the farmers took over and screwed the wife of some general who was guarding the wall so the general got angry and opened the wall to the Man chinese dynasty who kicked the shit out of the farmers and started to rule China. But the Man chinese were kind of dumb so they closed china to technology and when the british attacked them, they still had bows and arrows and the british kicked the shit out of the chinese and then there was warld war 2 and the japanese also kicked the shit out of the chinese and I am not sure about that but I wouldn't be surprised if the korean kicked the shit out of the chinese too and don't forget the french who also came because it looked easy. So china was basically bullied by everybody so it became frustrated and full of complexes so now it just has the mentality of the colombine high school nerds with a nuclear weapon: please just leave me alone but one day I will show you jocks what I can do!

During the day, I visit Beijing. It is a nice city, not too big or at least smaller than I thought and not too polluted or at least less than I thought.

The sadness of having lost my blog is still on my mind but a little bit lighter because I have all the time in the world to recover it from the drafts on my computer. Each morning and night I try to recover the dates from my GPS beacon and the text from various places on my tablet.
Tian an men square, I have actually made it to Beijing
For the first time I have the feeling that I have actually achieved something. I have hitchhiked countless kilometers from europe to China, at least as long as the Pekin Express reality show and most likely in much harder conditions. I could stop now, that would be fair. But one of the upsides of being far is that it does not take too long to get further.
Street in central Beijing


Cafe near the lake

One time I get approached by a guy who tries to sell me a prostitute for 100 yuan. 100 Yuan! Can you imagine? That is not even twenty dollars. I tell him that I already have a girlfriend and spend the night wondering how much the night girls make. I would have expected ten times that amount and only for the girl.

I live a calm and happy life with the roommates, I almost forget that I am on a long and dangerous trip to god knows where.

I buy a microSD card for one prostitute and an MP3 player for 1.5 prostitutes. I will put my chinese prices in prostitutes from now as a new currency. My current spendings equal a little more than one prostitute per month which is a fair achievement.

I have to remember it when the harsh reality shows on my passport: my chinese visa is coming to an end and my only way to renew it is to exit china and then enter it again. The only country which is in hitchhiking range is mongolia and it is not the warmest path. The other possible countries are Hong Kong and Laos, both very far.

Since I have fear and respect for the cold that awaits me, I decide to plan await and send a million couch requests to cities on my way. I get one reply from Zhangjiakou, a city 200 kilometers northwest of Beijing and a very good way to gather strength before the harsh and risky ride to Erenhot.

I took the coat Su has given me, I can use it together with my sweater from armenia and my coat from igor. I hope it will be enough. Temperatures in Erenhot reach -23 celsius and it is already cold in Beijing. Tomorrow I will start from that toll station where the last driver has left me.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

It gets better

My bus ride is a lucky one. As I try to buy bread in a restaurant during the lunch break (buses stop for lunch breaks), a girl decides to invite me for the whole meal. But we are late, the bus is leaving already so we are running away accross the place to put the food into bags and jump in the bus. It's funny to her, I am her adventure of the day.
As many chinese already told me, she admires my courage and would like to travel very much but she has a family and work. Chinese people do work a lot. She is fascinated by the whole trip, she is genuinly interested and she even talks english a bit but my tablet (with the translation program) remains the main source of communication.
My battery is depleted and I really need it to find my contact in Beijing so I need to use my tablet for maps. Datong is quite cold and Beijing should be only slightly warmer, I don't want to camp there. I recharge it at some shop a little bit and start hitchhiking towards the capital. I get a ride just before dark, it's a lucky one because all the other cars are going to Taiyuan. What so special about this city anyway, it annoys me, I hate it!
Some guy is going to the airport and he drops me in on one of the ring roads. My tablet has just enough battery to get me to Cui Le's friend. I am a mess. I don't know what to expect, I don't know if this guy will have some understanding for my travelling and the stuff that I've been through or just think that I am a rich tourist who came here by plane and sleeps in hotels. I just know that he speaks english and that alone is a big win.
Turns out I ended up in the sweetest community ever.
Chao Su goes to find me with his bike, he insists on taking my bag and we go to his appartment. 6 people live there, with me, it makes seven. Three more girls and three more guys. They're wonderful, they understand everything. I get a couch and they cook me dinner. I am in an oasis of humanity in the desert of China.
I am saved... and yeah I have a pink blanket

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Worse and worse

Today I thought I would be at least in Taiyuan but I was too optimistic. I didn't even make it halfway. I ended up in a city about 100 kilometers east of Xi'an with nothing to eat and and my sleeping place is some construction site. I miss the times in Kyrgyzstan where every place I pitched a tent in looked like a fairy tale. Some ladies from a gas station gave me a botte of green tea.
Lesson of the day, chinese people east of Xi'an do not stop on highways anymore. I have to hitch from toll station to toll station.
I get away from that place in the morning with a taxi who doesn't say he's a taxi and to which I don't give any money. He angily leaves me at a service area. Many people expect to make more money from me than they would from a local so giving me a ride for free is more than they could imagine.
In these areas of china, I don't use my magic letter anymore, pretty much everyone understands the concept of hitchhiking or at least asks for money upfront.
I also manage to get the internet a few times only to find out that with my blog, things are worse than I could ever imagine.

"We do not provide support for this service anymore. However a new service will be available from [...]"

No "sorry we screwed up, our faulty hardware gave up and it is entirely our fault, please forgive us, we are doing everything we can to make up for our mistakes", nothing such. They didn't try to solve the problem, they didn't even look at it. Actually they don't even try to find an excuse for their shameless attitude, they write it plain and simple in their reply: "you pay for our service but we don't give a shit about what we deliver to you much less about your satisfaction. And we are proud of it. There.".

They get my morals down everytime but I can't give up, what will I do? Camp in a tent in the middle of China until my visa expires? I continue a few kilometers east with some weird guys who let me in the middle of some middle-sized city. I make it to the highway just slightly before dark. Nobody stops and I should find a place to sleep on the same spot. There are fences everywhere, the only place without a fence is big pile of garbage through which I have to get trough to reach a spot where I can successfully pitch my tent.

Near this pile of garbage, there are some car repair shops. I go ask the people inside if I can pitch my tent there. They don't seem to understand much so I assume it's yes. I make my way through the garbage pile to behind the buildings. The surface is flat, nothing much for isolation except the disgusting garbage but I don't want to touch that, it would be like sleeping on public toilets. I feel more homeless than ever. I am probably experiencing what a mainstram homeless guy is living everyday in Paris.
I am about to set camp when I step on a layer of freshly fallen leaves. But ground never comes, I fall. My feet and leg races through a liquid substance but it isn't water. I manage to grab to some concrete wall and I pull myself out. But my leg is wet until the knee. In the freezing temperatures of the night, this is something to be concerned about. Next bad thing, the liquid is not water. It's some kind of disgusting decomposing mud and feces. I think I've just fallen down into a shitpit. I really needed that right now. I just want to lie somewhere and sleep this over. I have two choices. My first and second layer pants are wet but I have spares for each of them. I usually take three layers for sleeping but I might be able to get through the night with just two if it's not too cold.
I also have spare shoes. There are city shoes that I've got from Igor, not warm at all but better than sandals. And yeah, I also have sandals hanging from my bag, not that they would be of much use.
Basically, I have two choices. I can either get rid of the stinking things, dry my legs, put everything in a plastic bag which I hide in the depth of my rucksack and never open it again. Or I could try to do something about it, wash the things for example.
Every fiber of my being tells me to follow the first solution but I know it is just the easy one. I know that I should do something about my clothes before the disgusting stuff sticks to them forever and before it is too cold. Night is falling quickly and I make my way through the garbage towards the car repair shops once again.

"I don't even want to know what I fell into; do you have some hot water to wash this?"
They do and they are eager to help. They invite me in, let me change and wash my clothes. I wash what I can with the little hot water they have. I wash my shoes also. Meanwhile, it started freezing outside. I am just sitting there, in dry new clothes, waiting for them to kick me out. I don't really have a plan about what to do after. Usually, I have my plan A which is my current course of action and a plan B and C in case it fails. Now I am too tired and depressed to make any plans, my course of action is to wait and enjoy the warmth of the car repair atelier while I can.
But nobody seems to kick me out. It's 7, 8, 9PM. They happily talk in chinese, I wait. They watch TV, I wait. Some friends come over, they talk to the friends, I wait, more friends come over.
They cook dinner, I wait, we eat dinner.
They close the shop and I am still there. I am doing nothing just sitting like a dead leave, waiting for my fate.
At last it comes.

I am sitting there, cold, with my clothes drying, wondering when they kick me out
"Now, we are going to sleep," says one of the guys.
"Yeah, yeah, I'll put up my tent," I say having no idea where the hell am I going to build it.
But they have another plan for me. My automatic translator goes from hand to hand.
"No, no, you will sleep place" The automatic translator usually gives me this kind of cryptic messages, especially when people input complex sentences.
"What place?"
"I also sleep places"
Glad to know that you also sleep in places but that's kind of an empty sentence since everyone sleeps somewhere. I really hope he means.
"You are going to sleep in the same place as me" and also that he doesn't sleep in a tent.
Luckily, that is exactly what he means and I follow him to some other car repair shop. In the back of it there is a mezzanine and I am to take the middle upper bed. I don't really care about sleeping in a room with 5 other guys as long as I don't freeze to death. Tonight, I won't be cold. But I really need to get Beijing, now more than ever.
"I also sleep places"

In the morning I realize how much I needed not to sleep in a tent. The ground is frozen, it must have been -10 at most. My clothes are more or less dry, I can have 3 layers of pants again but my shoes are wet, they'll take more time.
So I walk with Igor's shoes, I can feel the cold ground under my feet.
At last, I make my way through to Taiyuan. It is a huge city but I am not in the mood to stop there. I want to get a ride to Beijing as fast as I can. But I am not desperate for a ride; if I end up in Taiyuan, I actually have a good solution about where to sleep. There is an airport just two kilometers from the highway and exactly in my direction. If I spend the night there, it'll be warm, confortable and I'll probably have internet. The lights will be up all night and it'll be noisy but it still is a good place to sleep compared to other places where I've been.

On my way to the airport I ask a chinese person for hot water and am told to get away as far as possible. Classic. Hot water is my new active heating source. In china, all public (such as gas stations) and private places (such as homes) provide hot water dispensers. I can fill several bottles of water and put them into my sleeping bag. The bottles cool down and deliver heat which is stored in the sleeping bag for some time since the latter provides isolation. Everything cools down eventually but it can keep warm for quite some time.

I go by some other cabin and I ask for water again just for the fun of being kicked out. One guy who looks like a complete homeless person in a police uniform behaves exactly like that but his friend, another guy who looks just a tiny bit less homeless and also wearing a police uniform invites me in.
Maybe you would think that it's strange, you would ask why are homeless guys wearing police uniforms but I am not really curious, I guess that kind of thing is normal for me now.

The two guys live in a cabin which looks exactly as what the homeless people in my country would build except it has electricity somehow. The other homeless policeman is very kind, he gives me hot water, he tells me to follow him, he'll find me a place to sleep which is better than a tent.
I follow him to a toll booth which solves the mystery of the homeless policeman, he is a toll booth worker, he has an official uniform but probably doesn't have enough money to live in something more than a dump.
After thinking for a while and discussing with his collegues, he points me towards a cabin in front of the toll station, just on the side of the highway. There is almost no rational choice of sleeping here instead of choosing the airport. It'll be cold, it'll be noisy and there will be no internet. The only good side of this choice is that I'll be able to hitchhike straight from my camping location.

In the morning my homeless police friend also brings me warm bread for breakfast which I welcome with enthousiasm.
However, hitchhiking out of Taiyuan is difficult. The good tollbooth workers try to catch rides for me but nobody goes very far. They end up deciding that this toll station isn't a good hitchhiking spot and they dispatch a car to take me to another one.
The first one was allright, I should have waited a bit more. Here nobody goes anywhere I know and most of them go back the way I came from. I end up catching a ride a few kilometers north of Taiyuan. It's not the quickest way to Beijing but it's a possible alternative and I go around the capital of Hebei in which I would be stuck in for sure.

The lady, who is very nice, speaks english and works as a lawyer leaves me at a toll station where nobody goes. The few people who ride there go back to Taiyuan. Meanwhile, I get information that one of the guys at OVH grew a heart and is trying to see what happened to my blog but it seems that there is not much he can do. The data really seems lost. There is not much in google cache either. Janela is my best support in those hard times, she is the one who gives me strength not to give up.

One of the tollbooth guards gives me a hard time. He doesn't want me to hitchhike on the toll station and it doesn't work anyway. So I decide to try my luck on the highway even though people don't stop on highways in those parts of China. He likes it even less and starts talking to me very fast in Chinese. I ignore him by replying in english and I continue my way to the highway and he starts grabbing me and pushing me back.
He's really getting on my nerves, I also push him in my direction and we have kind of a pushing and grabbing match which might turn into a fight. I shouldn't fight a police officer theoretically but from yesterday's experience I know that this guy has nothing more than the police uniform, he probably lives in a homeless dump somewhere in the forest and has no social status in China. If I get into a fight with him there will be no consequences.
Another guy comes from the control building (each toll station has a control building). His point is the same but he is more diplomatic. He tells me to follow hil, that we'll write a hitchhiking sign. Of course he'll not write anything and he calls the police instead and I kind of know that upfront. But I need to get out of Taiyuan and the police is as good of a solution as any.

They tell me that I'm brave, they drive me to the next service area where they find me a bus which takes me to Datong, a city 200 kilometers North of Taiyuan for free. I thank them and tell them to tell their friend in the toll booth that he is an asshole. I think they didn't tell him but it made them laugh.