Saturday, December 7, 2013

Worse and worse

Today I thought I would be at least in Taiyuan but I was too optimistic. I didn't even make it halfway. I ended up in a city about 100 kilometers east of Xi'an with nothing to eat and and my sleeping place is some construction site. I miss the times in Kyrgyzstan where every place I pitched a tent in looked like a fairy tale. Some ladies from a gas station gave me a botte of green tea.
Lesson of the day, chinese people east of Xi'an do not stop on highways anymore. I have to hitch from toll station to toll station.
I get away from that place in the morning with a taxi who doesn't say he's a taxi and to which I don't give any money. He angily leaves me at a service area. Many people expect to make more money from me than they would from a local so giving me a ride for free is more than they could imagine.
In these areas of china, I don't use my magic letter anymore, pretty much everyone understands the concept of hitchhiking or at least asks for money upfront.
I also manage to get the internet a few times only to find out that with my blog, things are worse than I could ever imagine.

"We do not provide support for this service anymore. However a new service will be available from [...]"

No "sorry we screwed up, our faulty hardware gave up and it is entirely our fault, please forgive us, we are doing everything we can to make up for our mistakes", nothing such. They didn't try to solve the problem, they didn't even look at it. Actually they don't even try to find an excuse for their shameless attitude, they write it plain and simple in their reply: "you pay for our service but we don't give a shit about what we deliver to you much less about your satisfaction. And we are proud of it. There.".

They get my morals down everytime but I can't give up, what will I do? Camp in a tent in the middle of China until my visa expires? I continue a few kilometers east with some weird guys who let me in the middle of some middle-sized city. I make it to the highway just slightly before dark. Nobody stops and I should find a place to sleep on the same spot. There are fences everywhere, the only place without a fence is big pile of garbage through which I have to get trough to reach a spot where I can successfully pitch my tent.

Near this pile of garbage, there are some car repair shops. I go ask the people inside if I can pitch my tent there. They don't seem to understand much so I assume it's yes. I make my way through the garbage pile to behind the buildings. The surface is flat, nothing much for isolation except the disgusting garbage but I don't want to touch that, it would be like sleeping on public toilets. I feel more homeless than ever. I am probably experiencing what a mainstram homeless guy is living everyday in Paris.
I am about to set camp when I step on a layer of freshly fallen leaves. But ground never comes, I fall. My feet and leg races through a liquid substance but it isn't water. I manage to grab to some concrete wall and I pull myself out. But my leg is wet until the knee. In the freezing temperatures of the night, this is something to be concerned about. Next bad thing, the liquid is not water. It's some kind of disgusting decomposing mud and feces. I think I've just fallen down into a shitpit. I really needed that right now. I just want to lie somewhere and sleep this over. I have two choices. My first and second layer pants are wet but I have spares for each of them. I usually take three layers for sleeping but I might be able to get through the night with just two if it's not too cold.
I also have spare shoes. There are city shoes that I've got from Igor, not warm at all but better than sandals. And yeah, I also have sandals hanging from my bag, not that they would be of much use.
Basically, I have two choices. I can either get rid of the stinking things, dry my legs, put everything in a plastic bag which I hide in the depth of my rucksack and never open it again. Or I could try to do something about it, wash the things for example.
Every fiber of my being tells me to follow the first solution but I know it is just the easy one. I know that I should do something about my clothes before the disgusting stuff sticks to them forever and before it is too cold. Night is falling quickly and I make my way through the garbage towards the car repair shops once again.

"I don't even want to know what I fell into; do you have some hot water to wash this?"
They do and they are eager to help. They invite me in, let me change and wash my clothes. I wash what I can with the little hot water they have. I wash my shoes also. Meanwhile, it started freezing outside. I am just sitting there, in dry new clothes, waiting for them to kick me out. I don't really have a plan about what to do after. Usually, I have my plan A which is my current course of action and a plan B and C in case it fails. Now I am too tired and depressed to make any plans, my course of action is to wait and enjoy the warmth of the car repair atelier while I can.
But nobody seems to kick me out. It's 7, 8, 9PM. They happily talk in chinese, I wait. They watch TV, I wait. Some friends come over, they talk to the friends, I wait, more friends come over.
They cook dinner, I wait, we eat dinner.
They close the shop and I am still there. I am doing nothing just sitting like a dead leave, waiting for my fate.
At last it comes.

I am sitting there, cold, with my clothes drying, wondering when they kick me out
"Now, we are going to sleep," says one of the guys.
"Yeah, yeah, I'll put up my tent," I say having no idea where the hell am I going to build it.
But they have another plan for me. My automatic translator goes from hand to hand.
"No, no, you will sleep place" The automatic translator usually gives me this kind of cryptic messages, especially when people input complex sentences.
"What place?"
"I also sleep places"
Glad to know that you also sleep in places but that's kind of an empty sentence since everyone sleeps somewhere. I really hope he means.
"You are going to sleep in the same place as me" and also that he doesn't sleep in a tent.
Luckily, that is exactly what he means and I follow him to some other car repair shop. In the back of it there is a mezzanine and I am to take the middle upper bed. I don't really care about sleeping in a room with 5 other guys as long as I don't freeze to death. Tonight, I won't be cold. But I really need to get Beijing, now more than ever.
"I also sleep places"

In the morning I realize how much I needed not to sleep in a tent. The ground is frozen, it must have been -10 at most. My clothes are more or less dry, I can have 3 layers of pants again but my shoes are wet, they'll take more time.
So I walk with Igor's shoes, I can feel the cold ground under my feet.
At last, I make my way through to Taiyuan. It is a huge city but I am not in the mood to stop there. I want to get a ride to Beijing as fast as I can. But I am not desperate for a ride; if I end up in Taiyuan, I actually have a good solution about where to sleep. There is an airport just two kilometers from the highway and exactly in my direction. If I spend the night there, it'll be warm, confortable and I'll probably have internet. The lights will be up all night and it'll be noisy but it still is a good place to sleep compared to other places where I've been.

On my way to the airport I ask a chinese person for hot water and am told to get away as far as possible. Classic. Hot water is my new active heating source. In china, all public (such as gas stations) and private places (such as homes) provide hot water dispensers. I can fill several bottles of water and put them into my sleeping bag. The bottles cool down and deliver heat which is stored in the sleeping bag for some time since the latter provides isolation. Everything cools down eventually but it can keep warm for quite some time.

I go by some other cabin and I ask for water again just for the fun of being kicked out. One guy who looks like a complete homeless person in a police uniform behaves exactly like that but his friend, another guy who looks just a tiny bit less homeless and also wearing a police uniform invites me in.
Maybe you would think that it's strange, you would ask why are homeless guys wearing police uniforms but I am not really curious, I guess that kind of thing is normal for me now.

The two guys live in a cabin which looks exactly as what the homeless people in my country would build except it has electricity somehow. The other homeless policeman is very kind, he gives me hot water, he tells me to follow him, he'll find me a place to sleep which is better than a tent.
I follow him to a toll booth which solves the mystery of the homeless policeman, he is a toll booth worker, he has an official uniform but probably doesn't have enough money to live in something more than a dump.
After thinking for a while and discussing with his collegues, he points me towards a cabin in front of the toll station, just on the side of the highway. There is almost no rational choice of sleeping here instead of choosing the airport. It'll be cold, it'll be noisy and there will be no internet. The only good side of this choice is that I'll be able to hitchhike straight from my camping location.

In the morning my homeless police friend also brings me warm bread for breakfast which I welcome with enthousiasm.
However, hitchhiking out of Taiyuan is difficult. The good tollbooth workers try to catch rides for me but nobody goes very far. They end up deciding that this toll station isn't a good hitchhiking spot and they dispatch a car to take me to another one.
The first one was allright, I should have waited a bit more. Here nobody goes anywhere I know and most of them go back the way I came from. I end up catching a ride a few kilometers north of Taiyuan. It's not the quickest way to Beijing but it's a possible alternative and I go around the capital of Hebei in which I would be stuck in for sure.

The lady, who is very nice, speaks english and works as a lawyer leaves me at a toll station where nobody goes. The few people who ride there go back to Taiyuan. Meanwhile, I get information that one of the guys at OVH grew a heart and is trying to see what happened to my blog but it seems that there is not much he can do. The data really seems lost. There is not much in google cache either. Janela is my best support in those hard times, she is the one who gives me strength not to give up.

One of the tollbooth guards gives me a hard time. He doesn't want me to hitchhike on the toll station and it doesn't work anyway. So I decide to try my luck on the highway even though people don't stop on highways in those parts of China. He likes it even less and starts talking to me very fast in Chinese. I ignore him by replying in english and I continue my way to the highway and he starts grabbing me and pushing me back.
He's really getting on my nerves, I also push him in my direction and we have kind of a pushing and grabbing match which might turn into a fight. I shouldn't fight a police officer theoretically but from yesterday's experience I know that this guy has nothing more than the police uniform, he probably lives in a homeless dump somewhere in the forest and has no social status in China. If I get into a fight with him there will be no consequences.
Another guy comes from the control building (each toll station has a control building). His point is the same but he is more diplomatic. He tells me to follow hil, that we'll write a hitchhiking sign. Of course he'll not write anything and he calls the police instead and I kind of know that upfront. But I need to get out of Taiyuan and the police is as good of a solution as any.

They tell me that I'm brave, they drive me to the next service area where they find me a bus which takes me to Datong, a city 200 kilometers North of Taiyuan for free. I thank them and tell them to tell their friend in the toll booth that he is an asshole. I think they didn't tell him but it made them laugh.