Thursday, December 19, 2013

The way to mongolia

Umer lets me go with a worried face: "don't die man!", he says. That's a nice advice, I will try to take it seriously.
I walk to the main road and stand with the prepared sign: gao su gong lu: highway. First hitch on my map.
I stop a car pretty fast and get to the toll station. It's not Beijing anymore; here; everybody helps me. The problem is nobody is going my direction, everything goes to the capital again. I end up stopping a van to the gas station. Second hitch on my map.
There, I get a truck to Hohhot, third hitch. He leaves me near Pingdichuan, now I have to hitch through the city.
I get a car to north jinning, 5th hitch. I get a second ride to the toll station. On the highway, I get a bus straight to Erenhot! I have made it!
Even though the driver is keen to help, the bus lady responsible for the money collection is against it and they leave me in Bayinchangan 40 kilometers on there. The upside is that I am now on the only road to the border, no more accumulation of cities. However it is late and I only make it to Zurihe. One guy despeately tries to find me a housing solution. He stops 50 meters from his house, tries to find me hotels, hostels and whatever and when I refuse everything he leaves me in the cold with a sad face. The next car leave me in the freezing cold of the night. Now it is rough.
the sun has set and the temperature is dropping quickly. I can't put my hands out for more than a few seconds. I do not have gloves. I am cold, my feet are freezing, I have to find a way to spend the night and a tent is just not going to cut it.
There is a shop built next to a house and a veranda in front of the whole thing. The veranda recieves enough heat from the rest of the construction to let me spend the night without freezing
"Can I put my tent on your veranda?"
"This is not a hotel"
And she leaves me in -18 degrees celsius without further thought.
I knock on another house, the situation repeats. The guy doesn't even talk to me, he slams the door in my face.
Chinese hospitality hello! It was nice to help me in Beijing but I would have survives in the capital. It is now that your help is really needed.
"What are you doing?" asks some guy after I make my way to another residence.
I explain my situation trough my tablet, I try to write as fast as I can because my fingers freeze at each letter. I can't type with my hands in my pockets, unfortunately.
The conversation last for a good five minutes and after he says: just come in. It doesn't make a lot of sense to him to let me into his house but it doesn't make a lot of sense to let me die of cold on his doorstep.
His house has three rooms, two of them which are heated by coal. The third one is a storage room. They are both catholics and tell me that they took me in because they believe in god and that I should be grateful to god and to them.
They have pictures of the pope on the walls and cross themselves before eating.
At one point, the guys looks and me and says, or to be more precise, writes:
"你是什么教你有没有信仰?"
"What do you teach you have no faith?", says my tablet.
That is rough. I remember that catholics can be more extreme than muslims in many cases although common thought suggests different.
"I have faith. I believe in god and I read the bible a little bit. But I do not go to church every sunday." That's a reasonable answer and it's not really a lie. After what happened to me I am starting to wonder if some kind of god really exists. But I am not catholic.
"你应该相信天主教是真正的,如果没有信仰人不会有好心" says the guy and "You should believe that Catholicism is true, if no faith people will not have good intentions"
"你应该相信今天是天主让我收留你你不要感谢我应该感谢天主" (You should believe Today is God let me shelter you do not you want to thank should I thank God, tablet traslation)
I don't know if he is looking to start a conflict but I don't want to risk to be thrown outside because of religion. But I'm pretty sure that almost every religion advises to give hospitality without further expectation. Weird people but they have a kind heart.
I get dinner and then: "我明天早上五点出" (I tomorrow morning five points out, says tablet). That is the kind of translation I have to cope up with everyday.
I believe that means that at 5 in the morning I have to be out of here so waking up at 4:30 AM. Not much of a night and I believe 5AM is the lowest temperature peak but I still get to spend a good part of the night in the warmth of a house and that counts for something.
The inside is warm and cosy

I wake up in the morning, it is dark and freezing outside. My host tells me:
"我一会送你去别人家坐,,一会等到天亮了以后你再走,,我去集宁" (I will send you go to others hotels sit,, a while wait until dawn after your longer follow the,, I went to Jining)
I guess he is sending me to some friends until the temperatures become reasonable again. I really hope that these hotels are just a bad translation of the chinese word 家 (jia) which can mean home or family as well.
Turns out I am right, there are no hotels in this town anyway. And turns out that this idea of his is no luxury. The friends live less than a kilometer away and I already can't feel my face when we get there. What would I have done walking three hours outside until the air warms up to a reasonable level?
Instead, I went to a nice family, also catholic with the pope's pictures everywhere and I got a huge breakfast.
At daybreak, about 7:30, I went on the main road. It was still freezing beyond measure; my feet and my face got numb in no time.
Not many cars on the road but still, about one every ten minutes.
One, two three, ten cars see me freezing on the street in this crazy temperature. There are two times of chinese. The ones who make a detour around me, may I freeze to death for what they care. These are the kind ones. The second type of chinese also lets me freeze to death but is ready to run me over if I don't get out of the way fast enough.
We are approaching mongolia, we are approaching russia, we are approaching vodka


At last, a car stops. They get me to Sahian Tal, the last town before Erenhot.
From them I convince some truck drivers to take me to the city. It is a good move, they are about the only cars on the road. Erenhot is a nice city and it is also very cold. I hitch through it and here I am, on the border.
China obviously doesn't give a shit about this border as it didn't give a shit about it's border with Kazakhstan.
The border is guarded by two mongolian officers who speak chinese, at least one of them, the other appears to be mute. Why are mongolians guarding the border from the chinese side, I don't know.
Some guy goes on to me and tries to sells me a place in his car for 80 yuan. The price is so high by my living standarts that I don't understand that he tries to sell me a place in his car, I think that he tries to hook me up with a prostitute for the disrespectful price of 0.8 prostitute. I refuse, telling him that I already have a girlfriend which he doesn't understand because he is trying to sell me a place in his car.
"Ok, 50! 50! Mongolia!"
"What? You're selling your girls for 50 yuan, two times less than in Beijing just because they are mongolian? Don't you have any shame? Leave me alone!"
And I start walking towards the border.
The mongolian mute guard makes me understand that I can't walk: I have to take a taxi through the border.
"Is the taxi free?"
"No"
"I am not paying for a taxi"
He doesn't seem to care about whatever I say or my reasons are. He just won't let me pass. I strongly believe that people who blindly follow rules have to be faces with a dilemma. I believe that following rules is not an excuse, not a good thing, it is a potentially dangerous behaviour. In my opinion, a person who became a robot by following rules is more a criminal than a victim. That person is responsible for his or her behaviour because he or she chose the easy path: follow instead of think and we were all born with the ability to think. Therefore, every person who is following rules in a way that affects others (this is even more true for police officers) should be forced into a situation in which every choice his makes breaks a rule he or she is supposed to defend.
That way people don't become robots.
"How can I enter mongolia? All these cars want money and I do not have money?"
No answer. I have no money, then I should stay in China. Unfortunately, that option breaks another rule.
"My chinese visa will expire if you do not let me enter Mongolia. I will be here illegally."
The officer is really annoyed. They usually get annoyed when you force them to think. You can see that they really don't like it. Since they don't have a lot of thought practice, it is easy to read right through their mind: If I have to detain this guy, this involves a lot of work and paperwork and I don't want to do it. If I have to get him trough that border that also involves work, damn, a bit less though. Effing asshole, why is he making me do this? Why can't he take a car like everyone else. Just leave me alone!
The other border guard shows me his wallet about a hundered times: "we need money". He thinks that I don't understand what is money. He shows me mongolian money, chinese money, dollars.
"You have yuan? You have turik? You have dollar?"
Maybe the concept of not having money is too hard to grasp. After a while he tries to convince some taxis to take me for free. They all refuse. They are trained to rip off tourists, not to help them out.
At last, he comes to a compromise with one of the taxi drivers. The taxis are not the yellow new york cabs, there are old soviet jeeps jam-packed with people and luggage on the roof. The guy opens the driver's front door: "get in"
I can't seem to understand, there is absolutly no space there. There are about twelve people in the jeep including the driver and where should I sit.
He points me at the void besides the drivers front door. I am to ride on the open front door on the driver's left, holding my bag somehow.
This is crazy like from a hollywood movie but that's exactly what happens. I am hanging from the car on the soviet open door which is hanging only losely from the side, holding my bag in front of me. My hands are freezing in contact with the cold metal, I still don't have gloves. I manage to put socks on my hands trying not to fall down from the riding car. Meanwhile, the driver asks me for money. Seriously, that guy has no shame, how can you ask for money for that kind of service? You really have to be Chinese to behave like that.
That experience proved how the blind following of rules may become stupid and result in situations which the very rules were supposed to avoid.
The official and perhaps initial reason why these rules were created was: security and safety.
But I am not convinced that hanging around from a riding soviet car's open door is safer than walking accross the border.
The first car leaves me in front of the chinese side of the border where I get my exit stamp.
There are some people waiting in line, mostly mongols, some chinese; I am the only real foreigner.
I need to find a pen to fill out my departure form.
"Gavarite parusky?" I ask without any real hope. Just to know more about the mongolian language situation.
"Da gavariyu; i tozhe po anglisku znayu"
Oh my god. I completly forget about the departure form. Mongolians speak russian and not that few of them also speak english. That is a dream. I need to go to mongolia now.
The jam-packed taxi with which I've gotten to the first border control has left, he didn't wait for a client who doesn't pay and I am not too dissapointed, hanging out from a soviet door is a bit too much, even for me.

I start talking with some mongolians, they are very happy and extremly friendly people. One of them really tries to help me. He finds me a shared taxi ride. Some russian-speaking mongolians who have an empty space in their taxi. They convince the driver to take me for free. The guy who found these people also said that he is going to Ulaanbataar the same day, he will see if they can find a place for me. That would be a miracle. That would also mean hitchhing a ride in no-man's land.

Our taxi driver is a crazy, happy and energic chinese girl. She has sunglasses and a big smile and she drives her big soviet jeep as she was on a car chase. Actually I wouldn't be surprised if she was in some real car chases before. She breaks, goes left, tight, the car shakes, everything is fast and you just feel the control she has over the machine.
Some people change cars, there is something going on, I don't really understand what.
"Go go go!" she cries as we run into the car again and pass the security border check: Yes!
We are greeted by a border customs officer who turns out to be a relative of the family he is transporting. He seems to be interested in my trip and is also very happy and friendly. All the mongolian people just laugh all the time for most of the ride and it creates a nice atmosphere.
I get invited to a nice mongolian restaurant. They eat with forks and chopstics it's kind of transitional between Kazakhstan and China.
Our chinese driver says goodbye to us. She isn't an asshole taxi driver like the other ones, she seems to be more of a friend of the family. We unload the cargo, put it in another car and she rides away.
It's not a family actually they are members of the same company based in the capital and they have bought a million things for Christmas in China.
And they take to me Ulaanbataar. For free. I can't believe it. My plan has worked. At least my half of it. My girlfriend has yet to come.
Moonrise in the desert