Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Three harsh nights in a tent

I thought, maybe just a little bit and for a little while, that this cop is going to host me. We are driving to Tulufan with a police officer who lets me off in a park. However, he has chosen a really nice park for me. The ground is covered with a huge layer of tree leaves, perfect for isolation. First time in China, I am going to set up a tent in the middle of a city. I wonder how will that work out... Will someone discover me and will it be the police-hotel routine again? Or will they not care according to their chinese principle not to mind other people's business. For once, I would welcome it.
I go to visit the city for a while, before going to sleep. I need to find some internet because my phone doesn't work anymore. My phone balance is finished and I can't recharge it because of... I have no idea why but it takes a lot of chinese gibberish to explain.

Tulufan is the first nice city I visit. Urumqi was also allright but that's the capital, different sizes. Tulufan is the first chinese city which is not an accumulation of flashy sinograms and mess. It has style and there is a huge pedestrian street.

Woman with child, Tulufan

For some time now, everynight, I take my sleeping bag out and let it dry and breathe. I have to take care of my sleeping bag otherwise it won't take care of me. It's with a better sleeping bag and all of my clothes on that I will fight this cold night. And it is cold but it's better than the horrible night at Khorgos border. Still, I shiver during the two coldest hours.
But nobody bothers me. People have barely had a curious look when they've seen me building that tent in plain sight in that park. Not their business, they're on their way.

My tent in the park, Tulufan

In the morning, I have a nasty surprise: my tablet battery has run dry. 0%, nothing, my life saver is dead. This is bad, very bad. I don't even know where I am on a map and you can forget about paper maps of Tulufan, they don't exist.
When I get up, it's also very cold. My hands freeze in seconds everytime I try to pack and I don't have gloves so packing takes forever. Outside, some guy is doing tai-chi.

Man doing taichi

I go to the first inhabited place I find and it's the park's security office or something like that. There is a woman there who plugs my computer in. It takes forever for my tablet to catch the power. I still haven't replaced my faulty charger and my charger kind of charges whenever it wants. I need to put my tablet in a certain position for the charger to charge and if I move it one milimeter there is no power anymore. Sometimes I have to orientate the plug in these weird chinese electric plugs so it starts chargin. And when the battery is completly discharged it is way more difficult to make the charger charge than if it's almost full.

The lady gives me some food; grapes, mandarines, apples and bread. I ask her if I can spend another night in her park because after all, the night wasn't so hard and Tulufan is a nice city. She goes to ask "the leadership" and of course he says no.
"You should go to a hotel," he tells me, convinced to teach me something I don't know.
"Is it free?"
No he's surprised. Stupid advice leads to stupid questions, smartass.
My tablet is recharged to about 22% of the primary battery. Enough for emergency use.
I leave Tulufan pretty late, it takes me forever to reach the main road.

Residential area in Tulufan

That day, I only make it to Shanshan, not even a hundered kilometers from Tulufan. The guy who drives me there keeps telling how brave I am, how great is my trip and how much he admires everything I do but he doesn't think about taking me home. Another night in a tent then. I could try to ask someone for shelter but I am kind of tired of having hope and trying so hard to be hosted each night. I better learn how to survive in the cold on my own, that skill will be far more useful. Last night's leaves weren't enough for isolation, today I am going to put all odds in my favour. I will really try my best. In the evening, everything always looks great, the cold isn't that scary and it gets more scary during the night.
But I really need to recharge my tablet now. The battery has fallen down to about 30% because of my daily use. I seek an electric plug at a gas station. The guys are really friendly, we try several plugs before one of them works.
They invite me to eat lunch and are fascinated by the foreign money I have with me. Taijikistan isn't exotic enough, it still is China's neighbour but they want Iranian currency. Appearently it is illegal to own foreign money in China, or at least here in Xinjiang.
The guys tell me that they will prepare a place for me to sleep. I didn't count on that and I still don't but if they do that's really nice. However, I've learned not to interpret things my way until I am absolutly sure that is the case. So I am still prepared to sleep outside.
After half an hour of talking and eating, the guys tell me that they've talked to "the authority" and they don't agree to let me stay because it's against regulation, the usual stuff. However, "the authority" wants to buy from me my exotic Iranian money. That's also against regulations but I guess some regulations are meant to be broken. In China as in Orwell's "Animal farm", all animals are equal but some of them more than others. I am not the least surprised, I say thank you to the guys for the effort and I fall back to my initial plan.

I find an abandonned house, some kind of dusty ruin not far from the highway. It is situated behind a wall and partially underground. The protection from the wind is complete and I expect some thermal isolation because it is underground. There are some old dusty clothes hanging around in different rooms. I gather them all to make a mattress in the smallest room of the ruin. It looks dirty and depressing, even the drunkest and dirtiest homeless guy in my home town wouldn't sleep on that. And I must say, I don't really don't have the stomach to lay into that rubbish either, I feel like sleeping in a garbage can. But when I build my tent over my improvised mattress, it looks just like anywhere else. The floor is warm and soft. There is even a time, in the beginning of the night when I am a bit too warm. I feel like I have found a reciepe for survival in china.
So far my only both warm and self-made place to sleep in China

The next day I get to Hami. The way goes through the desert. There is nothing there, I must look hard to percieve the smallest patch of dried grass. Sand and gravels. Dried out hills sometimes. Scary.
Dried desertic hills on the road to Hami, Xinjiang

My driver stops in a restaurant of some sort where he delivers various products and I get free lunch. A blind women who works there is very kind to me and while there is little room for communication, her kindness ups my morals for a while.
Chnese woman eating

I also recharge my tablet to a reasonable level, about 60% of the primary battery, 0% of the secondary one still. The next ride is a truck. He is going all the way to Yantai, precisely the place where I am going to hitch a boat to Korea. I don't know if they would take me there but that's too early anyway. I am only going with them to Hami (Kumul is the new name I think).
I didn't think the landscape could get even more desertic but somehow, it does. Hami is a city in the middle of the desert, I guess it will be awfully cold. I hope my previously learned skills will keep me comfortable.
The night falls pretty quickly and I am in the middle of the desert, there is nothing there. However I find a pile of clothes and blankets laying near the street, enough to make a big soft mattress, way better than the first one. However, I have no walls to protect me like yesterday.
The night is very cold but my improvised shelter works somehow. I am not cold but my feet are numb and just won't unfreeze. Damn. And of course, I have the internet. I can chat with my mother and my fairy from the inside of my tent. We are having and argument actually and I consider that a luxury given the conditions I am in.
Me, on the internet in the cold of my tent

The morning is cold and I don't wish for another night like this. I guess I can surivive but it's fucking hard. I remember a text message from Theo: east is warmer. The best solution for me is to get out of that desert as fast as possible, go somewhere where there is normal nature and warmth. And that is Ningxia Hui region according to Theo.