Thursday, November 21, 2013

This country is crazy!

I am in China and this is fucking weird. Why? Why did I leave Kazakhstan where people speak a slavic language somewhat close to my own? Why did I leave a country to which culture I have gotten used to. Kyrgyz culture, Kazakh culture, they are different but still very similar compared to what is awaiting me. I am a computer engeneer, a guy who studied well at school, who can get a job and leave a calm life. A guy who one day, decided to play a game. And I have been playing this game for a while. I have been playing my game and the reality of people's lives was my realm. Knowing this is a game has put me at a big advantage against many people and situations I have encountered. It has helped me keeping a sane mind, not panicking even when the bus driver in Turkmenistan threatened to call the police, even when the chiftain of police in Kyrgyzstan tried to extort money from me.
I have been playing this game so long that I didn't notice when it started to become a reality. I have a Kyrgyz girlfriend now and she is no game anymore. She is part of my reality. Another part of my reality is the freezing cold.

The other side of the border looks like something that I have never seen in a long time. Last time in Turkey, perhaps. Civilisation is everywhere. Perfect roads. Shops. Lights. Shiny billboards. Everything is clean and working, I miss the human touch. I have been used to seing struggle and imperfection in the passed countries. Here struggle is hidden.
The other side of the border
I think I am having a cultural shock.
First thing I need is a sim card. It's not as easy as it was before. In kyrgyzstan I just went to a shop, asked for a sim, put money on it and there I go. Here, I have to go to a special shop named China Mobile. Fortunately, they are everywhere. The guy doesn't speak english, I get that, I am tolerant person but 2 kilometers from the Kazakh border he doesn't even speak russian! Come on!
I am saved by a chinese student who speaks perfect english and explains everything. First, I have to get a chinese number. I can choose between a lot of numbers which are all very long and look the same to me. Then, I need to buy a sim card. It's 50 yuan for the number and 50 for the sim card. The guy forgets that I have to pay because of the language chaos so I get my sim card for free. I can hear Janela's voice after about two days of silence, that's a relief. Especially in my situation. I go to the main road, it's dark already. It's getting colder and colder.
I try to hitchhike but nobody stops except a car with two young and confused guys who tell me something very fast in mandarin before driving away. It's depressing. The cold is a a blow to my morale. Maybe hitchhiking doesn't work in China. I am 2 kilometers from the border, not an ideal place to camp but what choice do I have?
The truth is, I don't really think I am going to camp. Someone will invite me in. In these conditions, in this cold, it is a sure thing. Someone just has to see me. The problem is, nobody's out there and I can't blame them.
Meanwhile the guy from the telephone company realized he just gave me a free sim card. That doesn't compute in his chinese business mind. He calls me and tells me a bunch of fast chinese gibberish. I don't understand a thing and he is really annoyed. After a while he switches to Uygur which I don't understand either. Learn some international language you asshole!
He disables my sim card anyway and I can't call Janela anymore. Damn, I really thought he was too lazy to go through this timely process of disabeling the card. I should have had paid.

I can't put my hands out of my pockets anymore for more than ten seconds. I still don't have gloves, I should have bought some. I decide to resort to a desperate move: I knock on the door of a nearby house. A frightened lady opens the door. I really hope she speaks russian.
"Parusky paniemayete (do you understand russian?)"
"Go away, go away!," she seems to say in chinese. I don't even try english. I get out my tablet, set up google translate.
"May I build a tent in your garden?"

I have no idea how the automatic translation sounds but I hope she understands. And no I can't. She shows me a place, just outside her garden, where I can build my tent and now please leave me alone. A terrifying thought crosses my mind: I am in europe. This is a civilised country, people are afraid of each other and not hospitable either. They would let me freeze to death as long as I leave them alone mind their own business.
It's not that much of a problem, I have a tent and a sleeping bag, maybe I will feel cold for two hours during the end of the night and everything will be fine. Wrong. It's 7PM (actually it's 9PM Beijing time but I still haven't adjusted my clocks) and I am already feeling the same cold I felt in Kyrgyzstan at 5 in the morning. I have all of my clothes on. Three layers of pants (I have recieved some pants from the guy in Kazakhstan), my tshirt, two sweaters and my jacket. I even cover my sleeping bag with the table cloth I got from the lady in Kadzhi-Say which now serves as a blanket.
From midnight, I feel really cold, I have to shiver to keep warm. At 5 AM, the cold reaches its peak, my feet are becomming a bit numb because of the cold. I am surprised by such violant temperatures. How cold is it? Is it -10°C? -15°C? -20°C. Maybe it is -20°C. I have to get myself a thermometer.
And you know what? There is wifi in there. I may freeze to death in that tent but I will have the connection to tweet about it. Thqt is if I get passed the internet censorship.
I check the altitude. 607 meters. Not very high but I'm in the desert, it gets cold.
My frozen tent in the morning

In the morning, I still can't unfreeze my feet so I'll go, I have nothing better to do anyway. A man says hello as I get out of my tent. He invites me home to eat breakfest. The lady from yesterday is there, she's not as scared as yesterday and brings me breakfest and chopsticks. The family is quite poor but they have electricity and even a computer somewhere in the corner. It's china, other criteria apply maybe.
For the first time on my long hitchhiking trip, I am using chopsticks. We are eating some kind of white bread which tastes pretty different from what I am used to. They put some really spicy peppers on the bread with the chopsticks and then they eat it. My mouth burns but I haven't eaten since yesterday morning so I am really happy.
"Mei guo bu hao," says the guy. I am proud to understand: "United States not good." I am hearing that from armenia and east.
He gives me a bag of apples for the road. "Take it for the davay", he says because he thinks davay means road in russian.
I gladly take the bag of apples. Meanwhile, my feet have unfrozen.