Sunday, November 24, 2013

Accross the mountains

Nalachi city is kind of already in the mountains but not quite enough. The road accross the mountains goes over 3000 meters and it is winter already. It will be extremly cold and I just cannot afford to sleep somewhere in between. I must go hitchhike up and down in one day.
I am realizing one scary truth. I have two things here that keep me alive: my magic letter and my tablet. If I lose my magic letter, I can't hitchhike and I freeze. If I lose or break my tablet, I lose my ability to communicate in chinese, nobody helps me, I can't orientate and I freeze.
It's that simple. Magic letter and tablet, two things keeping me alive. Two things that I use almost every minute of the day.
It's my tablet which got me hotels, lunches, sim card and pretty much all the help I had.
It's not more than 200 kilometers alltogether but the road is snowy and not many cars go there. Actually, out ouf Nalachi, there is just one truck. I am lucky enough to hitch it and we ride further and further accross the mountains. Then the road is closed, the police has put some barricade over it but somehow they let our truck pass anyway. With each village we pass, I hope it is not the final destination of my driver. On the road, I see only trucks and also one bus with tourists. I am really lucky I got this lift.
The truck stops eventually. On a remote village on a mountain top, 3000 meters high. High mountains in the taklamakan desert, I can't sleep there, this would just be the end. In any case, as in every chinese village with population over a hundered there is a police station with policemen that might be willing to pay for a hotel. That would be the third in a row and these guys have computers and internet; they'll figure out eventually that I am surfing on police kindness.
So I hitchhike everything I can. Trucks, cars and the tourist bus that has finally made it to the top. It stops not because of me but because tourists need to have lunch. So they pay me lunch, it's very good. They always eat some beef and vegetables with a whole lot of noodles and I just love those noodles. Chinese cuisine has been my favourite for a long time anyway.
When lunch is finished they invite me to the bus. At some point a guy goes on to collect money and I just discard him with my magic letter. I feel like I have got a magic wand. I can't thank that police officer enough.

At some random point of the road, the bus stops and lets me out. I am out of the mountain death zone probably but still at about 1700 meters so the night wouldn't be very comfortable.
I manage to hitchhike a minibus who takes me for free after I show my magic letter. I really can hitchhike anything here. Paid, unpaid transportation, it doesn't matter, I have a free pass on everything.
The bus leaves me in Hejing Xian, I thought that was a village and it has skyscrapers. There is fog, it is cold, god it's even snowing a bit. What the hell will I do?
I don't have time to get out, It'll be dark and even if I get out, where will I go. I made a decision today: I want to leave Xinjiang as soon as possible.
"Can I put a tent in your garden?" I ask a guy living in a small house, just under the skyscraper. Yeah I know, hotel, police, police pays for hotel again but it's better than to freeze.
"Don't be stupid, it's cold out there, come and sleep home!"
"What?" I am not sure to understand correctly but I take tea with them.
The guy is 26, like me and he is very curious. My tablet takes turns from his hand to mine, we are having a complicated discussion about politics in Xinjiang in Chinese, and all thanks to google translate.
"The chinese government is bullying the Uygur people", says the guy.

The family eats only bread for dinner. They put the piece of bread into tea and then eat it. The guy has to go to work. He is interesting anc curious, his stories about the opression of Uygur people are really moving. However I am relieved to stop communicating again because talking through the tablet is quite tiring. I have to switch between english and chinese keyboard all the time and then try to decode the very approximative translation. And since english and chinese mandarin are very different languages, decoding it takes quite a lot of brain power. But how would it be without google translate? I am realizing that now more than during my work, my computer is of critical importance. When someone will later ask me what is the most important thing to take for improvised budget travelling, I will reply without hesitation: a tablet and a useful set of programs.

As soon as the guy leaves, his sister takes over. She is a 15 year old smart teenager completly fascinated by my trip and my life as a european so the tablet keeps changing hands again.

I manage to get to sleep at 10 beijing time which is 8 PM Urumqi time. Urumqi time is not an official time zone, but it is a time zone Uygur people use between themselves without being officially recognized by China.

I sleep so well and so happily. They leave me in a room heated like a sauna. There is a kettle of tea on the fire if I want some at night, a big bowl of bread should I ever get hungry and the mother brings me a bowl of some sweet and very tasty youghourt. When at home, in civilisation, I worry about what will happen next week, next month even. Today I don't worry about anything even though I have no idea where I will so much as sleep next night. I just enjoy my warm bed.

In the morning I have breakfest. Bread soaked in some weird white wheat mud. It's not tasty but it's a good breakfast. And then, desperation comes again, stronger than ever. The woman makes the sign for money. I thought they were helping me! I thought I was a guest! I thought it was from the heart! But I don't have the strength to fight anymore, I will give them money and then never try to get invited anywhere ever again. Evil people, evil china!

"Money for what?," I ask, just to confirm

"Tea, bread,..."

Yeah yeah, I get it. "How much do you want"

The mother starts waving hands energically.

"No! We don't want your money! We want to give you money!"

I refuse many times but in the end they force me 50 yuan and a piece of bread. That's money I can put on my phone or if conditions are too extreme, for a hotel room. It still counts if it's not my money. I am going to Urumqi tomorrow and where will I sleep there? Actually, I haven't spent more than 10 yuan since I am in china. I just bought some sweets one morning and that's it. The rest of it have been gifts. Life is not so bad.