Sunday, November 24, 2013

Encounters with police

With my magic letter in hand I stick my thumb out for new adventures. And it is really a magic letter for no one else has ever asked me for money since. The first car stops, I show the letter, he tells me to get in and we go. It's not more than 30 kilometers but he doesn't ask me for money and that was my goal of the day. One ride, two rides, three, all short but successful. I think I will manage to hitchhike in China. The landscape alternates between only road and urban areas like the one the first hitch led me to. They are filthy places full of shops with big red sinograms and usually a police station.
It's getting more and more dark and I am just hitching ride after ride, wondering who is going to take me home.
The last family seems to go in that direction, the father goes on about sleeping, he asks me a question which I don't understand but what else can it be besides "do you want to come to our home?"
I answer a definite "shi", yes and the guy drives me right in front of a hotel. I tell him that I don't have money for hotels so... think my good samaritan, think, what only other solution can you find. The guy drives me 50 meters from the hotel and lets me out. Fail.
Next ride is some other guy who takes my letter, reads it but I'm not sure he understands it. Maybe he doesn't read chinese. Maybe he only reads Uygur written in arabic alphabet.
He stops at some market where he asks me to give him the letter, he shows it to some weirdly looking guys and gives it back to me. The weirdly looking guys then come to me with a threatening look on their faces. They say something in chinese that sounds like "do you have a problem with us?"
They are too big, too many and too threatening so I just walk away. I walk about 200 meters when the guy with the car honks at me again, he's alone in his car, he wants to take me in and we continue our way. I have no idea what that about. My hopes of being invited home start to shiver but have not dissapeared yet and when the guy starts about cold and hotels, I tell him that I have no money for that.
So the only solution which remains is... he drives me to the police station. Come on, how many things can a chinese person imagine before he invites someone home?!
He tells something to the police, probably explains my situation, what else, and then rides away. The police take my passport, ask me questions, I tell them my story and they start looking for an interpreter. They get one on the phone and we can start to communicate. They say that it's against the law to sleep in a tent, same story as in Ili city. I ask if I can sleep at the police station.
They say that they'll ask but they don't feel confortable with that.
"How did you come here?"
"With the two people that left me here."
"Why did you choose this police station, why not a police station in Ili city?"
"I didn't choose this police station, these two people dropped me there, I have no idea what I am doing here"
"So you insist in sleeping at this police station?"
Apparently, the guy didn't tell them anything. He just dropped me here and the police and said nothing. The police actually thinks that I came to them of my own free will with the first and foremost intention of sleeping at the police station.
"Do I insist... I never wanted to sleep at this police station."
"So why did you come here?"
"Why did I come... these guys left me here."
"Why didn't you sleep at these guys place?"
"Obviously they didn't want to, that's why they left me at the police station."
Everyone tries to make some sense of the situation.
"You cannot stay in this place, tourist can only go to cities, not to urban areas or villages." I think I get why North Korea is China's ally now.
"It's too late to hitchhike now"
The phones goes back and forth from me to the translator.
"The police suggests that they pay for a bus to take you to Ili city where you can sleep."
"I'll try to put a tent there, like I would in here. And then I will hitchhike towards Urumqi and end up in here, probably at the same exact police station"
"The police suggest they pay for a bus to take you to the nearest hotel in the direction of Urumqi. Then police will pay for the bus and for the hotel."
I am surprised. I used to expect miracles from people and was dissapointed each time but I never even tried to expect anything from the police, I always considered them my enemy.
"Do these terms seem agreeable to you?"
I am on the dream end of a negotiation. "Yes I agree!" Who wouldn't.
"The police sends you its sincere apologies for the trouble caused."
You know, seriously, I think I forgive them. And they give me apples.
That night I sleep in a hotel and I have rarely seen such a fine hotel. It's golden luxury everywhere, I have my own bathroom with toilet and shower. Ok, no warm water but who cares, I will not freeze tonight.
I will not freeze tonight
The next day I leave the hotel in the direction of Nalachi. At noon, I manage to create a sim card. It's not an easy process, I deeply regret to not have paid for the first one. Appearently, sim card require a chinese identity cardcal so you have to be a chinese citizen for that.
"Does that mean that foreigners are not allowed to have a chinese sim card?"
The lady just does a gesture that means "I don't know" or "This situation is too complicated for me, go away."
I manage to make a sim card because a nice girl who even speaks some english accepts to create one on her name and give it to me. At a second "china mobile" office I manage to figure out how to call to russia but only after explaining to the lady where is russia because she didn't know. Come on lady, Russia is not only the neighbour of your country but also of your region, where did you go to school?
me and one of the many china mobile employees
I met I also get free lunch, a happily looking guy invites me to sit and eat noodes at his restaurant. There is a lot to eat, it's a kind of soup with very slimy noodles and I eat it with chopsticks. He gives me a funny white bread which I like very much and I have one more for the road.
On the road to Nalati
In the evening I arrive to Nalachi. The city is above 1500 meters of altitude, the wind blows like crazy, it is freezing really bad, this is not a good place to put up a tent. I try my luck with the good citizens of that city.
"May I put up a tent in your garden?"
"We have no space at home"
I said garden, at least to be safe from the wind but never mind.
I try next door and the guy invites me in. He seems to say: "why sleep in the garden, better sleep inside" and I could not agree more. I tell him my story insisting that I travel for a dollar per day so he doesn't bring me to a hotel. Then he starts saying something like he knows about a place, a friend of his perhaps, where I could take a shower and whatnot, and we should go there. Why not, I am curious. We take all my stuff and go accross the city. I start being a little worried. At last we stop. There is a reception. We are at a hotel.
The hotel lady is nice at first, she is happy to have a client, you see on her face she is smelling money. But lady you're mistaken, that's not money, that must be my socks and believe me, they are not worth much.
They are both very surprised when I tell them very clearly "wo mei you qian", I have no money. But use your logic people, why would I try to put a tent in your garden if spending money was an option for me? And why would I have a tent in the first place?
The lady tells me that staying in a tent is against regulations. Appearently, in Xinjiang, not only the police but also people are enforcing the law. For the first time a thought has crossed my mind: china just might be a dictatorship, just as the european media say. They might have been wrong about Iran, they are not wrong all the time.
"Do you agree with me calling the police?" Appearently, customers opinion is important.
"No, why would you do that?"
She calls the police anyway.
She says something like. "Hello there is a guy who went to my hotel, he wants a room and he says he has no money, what should I do?" Again, as if I chose to be here.
She probably wants the police to force me to pay for the room but I am going to fight that.
The police takes me to the station, they process me through different levels of authority and one of the policemen is so fascinated by my story that he takes photos of my photos with his iphone while I display them on my tablet. I kindly explain to him that he can download the originals on my website which makes him very happy.
Many of the policemen tell me that they think that what I do is great and that they are going to pay for my hotel tonight. That was easy. They ask if I have enough to eat and I say yes. I still have the bread from lunch and anyway, I am not hungry because I ate a bunch of noodles. I also don't want to bother the police more than necessary.
They take me back to the hotel where the surprised lady is told to prepare me a room for free. She is surprised and annoyed but she will not disobey a policeman's command. So she sets up a room for me, a small one at the last floor. I am allowed to take a big thermos of warm water for tea and... there is internet!
my second room has internet
I can talk with Janela all night long now from the safety and warmth of my bed and everything is okay.
If I think about it, me and china have reached a good mutual agreement. The chinese want to have full knowledge and control over the comings and goings of foreigners and I am travelling for one dollar per day. If China wants me to stay in hotels, they will pay for my hotels. It is good for me, it is good for them and at the end of the day, everybody is happy.