Monday, December 2, 2013

Out of the desert

I manage to get out of that lake to Xining. It is a city higher than 2000 meters of altitude, yet it is huge with skyscrapers and stuff. I try to find the internet by going from restaurant to restaurant, they sometimes have wifi. Some of them don't understant what I am asking, others don't know their password but want to buy my tablet. However I quickly find one that can connect me. I don't have to worry about the owner kicking me out because I didn't order anything because in China people don't give a damn, and that includes not giving a damn wheather I order or not as long as I mind my own business.
Two people end up buying me lunch after hearing my story and they give me 100 yuan. Weird country. They won't invite you to their homes but they will give you lunch and money.
Me hitchhiking in Xinning
I make it to Langzhou, the capital of Gansu. The city is beautiful at night. The iluminated buildings look awesome and through them flows the yellow river. The problem in winter is that you don't get to admire any beauty for too long. Google predicts -10°C at night and Google's predictions are often optimistic. So either I find a decent place to sleep, and by decent I mean not a tent in a park, or I continue to Zhongwei (Ningxia, Hui autonomus region) where the climate is more kind.
Langzhou in the morning

There are no abandonned houses anywhere, only giant skyscrapers and clean parks. The only construction that doesn't fit in is that small cabin, right under the highway. In there lives a small guy, alone with a handful of puppies. He hesitates when I ask him if I can spend the night as his place but in the end, he says yes when I tell him that I don't have money for a hotel. He is one of the people who clean the streets in Langzhou. He is very poor, simple but has a kind heart.
My host with puppies

He gives me bread for dinner, and an apple. Under the benches on which I sleep, there are really small puppies, probably his main company. All night I hear cars passing over my head (we are really exactly under the highway) and a flash every two minutes from the road. Chinese roads have very strong lights which flash every now and then, god knows why.
In the morning, the cleaning crew comes for breakfest. It's a bunch of funny ladies all looking used up by the poor condition of their work. I get another bread and apple.
Cleaning team

The next day I manage to make my way to the north of the Ningxia region. It is a lucky ride. A guy in his forties picks me up, and rides all the way to Wuzhong, near Yinchuan, the capital of Ningxia. He has a daughter who is studying accounting, who lives near Shanghai and who speaks english! We talk quite a bit about all kinds of stuff and it makes her father happy that I get to communicate.
He is a funny guy, he may be a grown up and have a family, he didn't completly finish his childhood. He makes jokes, he's open, without many complexes, he's quite different of many chinese people I've met. And he can manage some english words every now and then.
In Wuzhong, he spends the night in a hotel before continuing to Xi'an the next day. He tells me to come with him. The police is already waiting for me. Chinese monotoring of foreigners is fast, effective and thourough. They need to know where I'll sleep as well as my plans for the future. You really can feel the democracy out of that woman's voice. Besides that, she is very friendly and kind, we chat a lot about travelling and our lives, everything is very nice except the regulation. The situation repeats itself.
"I don't think I will stay in this hotel, it's too expensive for me"
"Where do you want to go? It's the best hotel in the whole city!"
Yeah, I believe it with its golden reception and stunning pictures of luxurious rooms.
"It's also the most expensive. My budget is 1 dollar per day."
"Yes, it is more expensive." The police lady thinks for a while, then her face illuminates: "but it has breakfast included!"
Oh really? So if there is breakfast included then everything is allright, all problems solved, I can forget about my principles of being hosted for free that I have managed to keep everyday for six months.
"It's against my principles to pay for hotels"
"Yes but you cannot find a hotel for six yuan per night." Anyway, even if I could, the police wouldn't let me beacause in china, not only foreigners have to  sleep in hotels, they have to sleep in special hotels designed for foreigners and one of them is this one, the best and most expensive hotel in town.
"That's why I sleep in a tent"
"You cannot sleep in a tent"
"Can I sleep on the reception couch for free?"
"Can he sleep on the reception couch for free?" the police asks the reception lady. The reception lady makes her repeat the question.
"No he can't"
"Then I'll leave the city. Can I leave the city?"
"Yes you can."
Looks like me and the police have reached a compromise but my driver disagrees.
"He can stay with me in my room"
Everyone is satisfied, the police leaves and that's another night that I don't have to spend in a tent. My driver seems to find everything amusing.
He asks me if I can show him my tent and we actually build my tent in the hotel room. He seems to be very interested by the weird things that I carry with me such as my tent, my inflatable mattress and my sleeping bag.
We build my tent in the hotel room

"Do you have something to eat for dinner?"
I have the piece of bread that I've gotten from the nice cleaning ladies in Langzhou. He contemplates the thing for a while.
"Let's go."
And we go eat to a canteen, some beef, rice and a whole lot of chinese excellent food.
I don't have any credit on my phone anymore, I don't understand how, but my telephone money keeps evaporating without me doing anything, I think chinese telephone accounts have holes or something. I almost spend my total of 2 euros/day on telephone money, I don't buy anything else and I am way under 1 dollar/day only counting the food.
The hotel has breakfast included as promised and the next day we go to Xi'an. I thought we would be out of the desert by passing the border between Gansu and Ningxia but that region is as desertic as anything else. So Xi'an is my hope for some green.
The next day my driver says to go to his car, we are going as soon as he takes care of some business of his. I end up waiting most of the day, reading the manual of my camera and writing my blog. We have an excellent giant lunch with his work collegues and at 4 PM we go.
We ride into the night, get lost, I navigate him in a mixture of english and chinese and at 11PM we arrive home and... unbelievable: I get invited home! The temperature inside the confort zone even if I slept in a tent but I am curious about chinese homes anyway. This is the first modern family home since... forever. He has hot water, electricity, oh my god he even has wifi home!
His son also is living there and they say I can wash my clothes. I expected a washing machine but no, they are doing everyting by hand. Believe it or not it is the first time I am washing my clothes by hand, I never believed in that process. I alsways believed and still do that clothes are meant to be washed in a washing machine, everything else is just wetting them with water. But since they have prepared everything for me, I wash them anyway with scepticism. Probably it shows because the son helps me out.
He is very curious, asks millions of questions about my family and especially my girlfriend who looks strangely familiar even though she's not chinese. And you know what's also wonderful: I looked outside and trees are growing. No desert, no mountains... trees!