Thursday, December 5, 2013

I think it's warmer

I am not in Xi'an but Baoji, about 200 kilometers away. My clothes are more or less clean, I have the internet and a place to stay. Appearently, I can stay one more night, the guy seem to like me. In the morning, we have a morning run and exercise.
"I run everyday. Good for health.Today you with me." He says. He's very excited and he is waiting by the door already exercising.
"Filips Filips... run let's go!"
He's a funny guy, weird but funny.
There are a bunch of chinese people exercising in a park, that's a normal thing here. I really need to put some money on my sim card but I don't have time to do it. It is really frustrating, I just can't put money on that stupid phone.
The father tells me we are going somewhere. Communication is too difficult for either of us so he just says: "let's go."
We drive to a nearby village, to his family house. There is some event going on there and they point us to a restaurant. The whole restaurant is reserved for that event with prepared tables with tons of food. That's amazing, I still have no idea what the event is, a wedding maybe.
There also is some 酒 (jiu), rice wine which has a weird taste, softer than any other spirit I tasted but gives me the impression of drinking acetone.
There were so many kinds of foods with all variations of flavours. I even think there might have been some worms or insects in the mix but maybe they were just some tentacles from some sea creature.
Lots of food

More food

Some weird looking people were sitting with us, dressed in white with strange hats.
At the end of the meal I was told that this was actually a funeral. I thought these people looked quite happy for a funeral.
We drove to the village, everything is green. I like green even more so than I have only seen deserts for the past few weeks.

Strange hats

Walking through the green

Wherever I go people are surprised. They don't speak english or very little but it's always: "come drink tea with us", "come eat with us". Sometimes I have the feeling to be a bigger attraction than the man who just died.
He was some 86 year old guy who died of natural causes I was told.
The next day I leave.
"Stay one more day!" the father tells me repeatadly. We go to the city to eat breakfast, I don't know what I did but he likes me very much. But I have to go, I told my chinese friend who lives in France that I am closing in on Beijing so I'd better be closing in because his friends are waiting for me. It will be my first contact with home. Indirect, yes, but still, kind of a contact.
I wonder if it takes crazy funny rebel fathers who like to build tents in hotels to host someone in China. If it does, I just hope there are a lot of them.
He lets me out on the exit of the toll station where I start eating my 包子 (bao zi, stuffed bread that I had from the funeral). I don't have time to finish my breakfast, I am not even hitchhiking when I see a car stop.
"Ni hao, ni chu na'ar?" (Hello where are you going?)
"I am going to Xi'an!"
Oh my god this guy speaks english! If he was going to hell, I would still go with him because english-speaking hell is still better than mandarin-speaking hell. Maybe I am too harsh saying that China is hell, maybe it is not fair to all the good people who have helped me greatly, who have taken risk for me. Nevertheless, China has been difficult and I welcome every bit of what is familiar to me... like english.
His name is Baggio (I think) and he works for the government, taxes department.

I must change my opinion of the Chinese view on their society. I thought that chinese people were feeble critics when it came to their way of life. I remember reading in the travel blog of the famous french traveller Ludovic Hubler, that he regretted the lack of interest of the chinese in politics. I think Mr. Hubler has misunderstood the chinese as french people have trouble dissociating politics from society; therefore a lack of interest in politics if often mistaken for a lack of citizenship. On the contrary, the chinese have a critical view on their everyday life. In Xinjiang and Gansu, many critisize the actions of their government but it is clear that they can do very little about it. Many chinese in other regions have different viewpoints about the independence of Xinjiang and Tibet. And many Chinese are saddened by the countless westerners who pass judgement on china without having set foot there. In defence of those westerners I would say that this is also China's fault since they make it so  painful to get a visa.

"Where do you sleep in Xi'an?"
"A tent." It's not a lie, Xi'an is south, it is warmer, sometimes temperatures above zero or only slighly below freezing and only during the night. I can set a tent there and the Chinese will gladly ignore it.
"If you want, I can invite me to your home."
The Chinese have a different way of issuing home invitations. The Kyrgyz would just say: "Come to my home." and expect you to be glad to be a guest, because being a guest is a priviledge, it has a social status in the Kyrgyz culture. The chinese however, are kind of ashamed to invite you to their place. Instead of considering that their place as a great help and benefit for the traveller, they compare it with a luxurious hotel where they imagine the traveller spends most of his nights. They figure that the traveller will expect nothing less and instead of being glad to have a place to stay, he or she will be dissapointed.
The Kyrgyz can't even imagine such hotels since they are poor and are likely to never even have seen one but they understand the simple concept of a hungry traveller in need of food, shelter and shower.
In this regard, the Kyrgyz are right and the Chinese are mistaken, at least in my case.
He calls his wife who asks him weather he is having a nervous breakdown or a midlife crisis but she accepts. I am now in a country where women have a say after a long journey through countries dominated by the male gender.

He is very surprised and interested in my trip. Many chinese are. They are a nation stuck in endless work with little time for pleasure, an adventure such as mine is so different from what they know that it seems unreal to them.
He would also have to travel but work, work, work. And family.
We arrive to Xi'an, the end of the silk road and former capital of China. He has to take his son from school and I wait for him in a food court where he buys me some local Xi'an speciality.
Xi'an is the first city on my way where the muslim presence seems to shiver. Before, mosques were most common in China.
"I don't know how my son will react to the presence of a foreigner," says B. I sincerely hope that he will like me because I really don't want to sleep on the street.
His son is ten years old, he is smart and very communicative to say the least.
"Oh my god! I have a book and there is someone called Filip in my book! But he is a wolf."
Yeah, the little guy speaks english, and at level good enough to have an actual conversation. I can't believe my ears. And he keeps saying "Oh my god!" everytime something happens.
It is friday, restaurant day, the whole family goes to the restaurant instead of cooking at home. And I am invited for some deliscious Xi'an specialities. As in Urumqi I am invited to choose one dish which will be shared and since the Chinese love the democracy they don't have, I have to choose.
The restaurant is very good and I am getting better with the 筷子, kuai-zi, chinese chopsticks.
The family, looking at pictures on my tablet

They organise me a visit of the city but since it takes the whole day and now it is already too late, I can stay one more day. And they have a shower, I had one in Baoji but actually I need a lot of them before my body gets to a clean state after weeks of dust and dirty places.
I even have my own room, I sleep in the son's room and there is internet. I think it's getting warmer. Everything is ok.