Journal - Napló

Days 330-344. On three wheels (China 3.)

Posted on July 8, 2012 at 6:35 PM


Day 330.


   Before the departure, there was one thing left for us to do in Golmud and we didn’t really feel like doing it. Nevertheless, we showed up again at the police station and requested that our visas be prolonged. As it turned out, the hotel failed to inform the police about our presence. We were sent back to our accomodation and were asked to come back in the company of its manager. Whereas a lady was handling our visa, the two men were negotiating in a seperate room. My bad premonition was gone quickly. We heard laughter coming from the other office and the men appeared in a light mood. A serious amount of money was transferred, with receipts. Presumably, it was not a violation fee: the hotel owner must have bought the authorization to receive foreign guests from that time on (this conclusion is based on them saying we could stay another night should the departure be delayed). Early afternoon we were given the new visas which entitled us to be travelling for another month in China. We packed on Vita (our tricycle), Alex started playing and waving at each other we said goodbye to the familiar people of the hotel.

   That day was children’s day. The town was filled with programs: we –with our colourful, music-playing tricicle- fit in well.

   It took us about two hours to leave behind Golmud’s buildings and for us to become tiny dots in the barrenness of the might and majestic Tibetan-plateau. Our little team weighed a total of 200 kilos. Moving this amount of weight… well it’s possible but even the slightest slope was a serious challenge. In the afternoon stormy wind sprang up and here and there we saw whirlwinds on the plateau. At nightfall everything silenced and we were able to pitch our tent under the main road. We were pedalling in turns but made only 30 kilometres that day.


Day 331.


   The Sun was already high up on the sky when our bodies –that got unused to ’work’ and were presumably shocked from the previous day’s pedalling- decided to come to consciousness, so we woke up. In the early afternoon we reached a village where we had lunch and filled our water supplies. The next settlement lay 60 kilometres far. Although we halted a few times to record for our planned clip, by 10 pm we were in the little town and took a cheap room. In the afternoon we passed a police checkpoint standing in the middle of the lowland plain. We were not certain that our vehicle met the requirements of any regulation (in spite of the hours we spent in Golmud trying to find out the related, Chinese regulations – in vain). Relief was close, just as the building and the officer were like 30 metres behind, they shouted at us and we had to turn back. I felt like a kid stealing from the pantry and getting caught right in front of his room. However, the officer greeted us smiling. He was studying Vita laughing and with recognition. He indicated that one of the tyres had a crack and let us on our way. From that time on, we didn’t have to worry about the local forces of order, we knew we were not violating any rule.

Nice weather and many slopes helped our progress the whole day.


Day 332.


   At breakfast, one of the truck drivers sitting at the adjacent table inquired about our business. They had a lot of fun when we told them we were traveling by a tricycle. A gesture recognizing our efforts, then another one with the message that further tricycling would be foolish and a proposal to put Vita on the truck and to give us a ride. How could a hitch-hiker say no to that? Although they were going as far as Xining, we told them we would like to continue our tricycle trip from lake Qinghai.

   Vita and the backpacks were thrown on a trailer, we got into seperated truck cabins and went on our journey. Past a greening oasis, the road was climbing up to 3000 metres. Descending on the other side of the mountain pass, dark clouds were gathering on the sky. Once we arrived at the lake and thanking the drivers we said goodbye, the rain was already at us.

   We found lodgings fairly easily in the little town centering around freight traffic. As we occupied our room, Alex started to feel dizzy. We travelled in different trucks and it turned out his stomach hurt during the trip. For the evening, he turned really pale and felt dizzy. We called my mom (she is a doctor) and after taking the pills needed the dizziness slowly passed. Next day off to Xining, Vita will only be used a little later.


Day 333.


   We got a ride relatively soon. Vita was on a trailer again and we didn’t stop until Xining. The chain suffered for the rough road so we went to look for accomodation pushing our vehicle. We were wandering in the huge town for hours but we couldn’t find a cheap hotel. We sat down wearily on the pavement when a passer-by said hi to us – in English. Jane suggested that we pay for a massage in the nearby salon and we spend the night there. Since we were not sure how long we would stay in town, we considered this a final option. As we would be allowed to spend only one night in the salon. Jane offered to show us the hospital. We started out together but a long set of stairs leading out from an underpass made me and Vita stay underground.

   As I was waiting for Alex –in an underpass, with backpacks, a synthetizer and a colourful tricycle-, a couple approached me. Savila and Han knew about a small hotel so when Alex and Jane were back, everything was solved. We parked Vita in the nearby yard of Jane then Savila and Han took us to the hotel in their car. When we were done packing, they invited us to dinner in a close restaurant where they ordered the local speciality, lamb. In order to help the communication, Jenny, an English teacher friend of theirs joined us. We ate the delicious food until we felt sick.


Days 334-338.


   Thanks to Jane, Alex found a Cuban doctor in the hospital, so the communication was no longer an issue. Tests, examination, medications.

   Alex was feeling better and the dizziness fully passed, so we were able to accept either Jane’s or Savila and Han’s invitation. The town itself was not much of a subject of interest but our new friends surprised us almost every day. Lunch and dinner, Chinese kitchen, nightlife (who says the Chinese can’t drink?), visit to the nearby monastery of Kumbum. Even Vita got refreshed: the truck wounds got fixed and she was ready for the next race.

   Since the rush before Xining, Alex has gained his strength back but his stomach demanded serious cure. He had to be careful concerning his diet and needed the ’appropriate’ drugs, still his stomach reacted unreliably to some lunch or dinner.


Day 339.


   It took two hours to get out of town and along a river we went on our journey, eastwards, on the main road. Up and down mountains, often pulling Vita, through village parts.

   Flat tyre. ’With proficient moves, with the help of our professional tools’ (and those we borrowed from the gas station) we managed to ’fill Vita’s decaying tooth’.

   The gates we passed play an important role in people’s everyday lives. Crouching old people, little children held in lap, sleeping people brought life to the parts separated with walls from the busy road.

   We spent the night in a fairly big town’s cheap hotel that we explored after serious research.


Day 340.


   This day’s trip started with a flat tyre as well. We stopped at a gas station. In the next few seconds a serious number of spectators gathered around us. All the men seemed to be experienced experts but this didn’t mean there was an agreement on how to fix a flat tyre. They soon took over control and tried to help, grabbing the tools from each other’s hands and arguing with one another. After a failed attempt, a silent gentleman took over the ’power’ who managed to heal Vita’s wound with real proficient moves.


   China was the first country where I truly felt the need of knowing the local language. Until now wherever I have been, even when I didn’s speak the language, nonverbal communication has always been of help. In China, this was not an option. We learned some basic words but almost never succeded in pronouncing it so that the locals understand. Body talk was also destined to fail, even the most basic ’pantomime’ gestures lost their meaning. This often resulted in funny situations but sometimes seriously tested my patience. My brain wasn’t always able to comprehend the situations derived from an entirely different mode of communication. Now and then, this sense of helplessness triggered hostile, angry reactions in me.

   That day we reached a town late in the afternoon. Not very fast but at nightfall we found a cheap hotel. We parked Vita in the yard, ’protected’ from the traffic of the main road, near the entrance. Then with all our stuff we went to the reception on the first floor. The hotel is managed by a kindly smiling family of four members. I thought they’d show us to our room, we’d unpack and then we’d deal with the ’paperwork’. Unfortunately, I not only thought but expected so. Tired of the day’s pedalling, with all our baggage in my hands, my head getting redder and redder I tried to make the dad understand that all we want is them showing us the room where we could unpack and then we’d be happy to fill the forms needed. I failed. In my hopeless wrath, I threw everything away, hurled my passport down in the father’s hand and sat down the stairs for further expression of my being in revolt. I let Alex take over. They inspected our documents for minutes then indicated that they would hold on to our passports until the following morning. What?! No other Chinese hotel owner requested this, it couldn’t be a rule. Not even a regional regulation as this was not our first night in the region of Gansu. And I for one will not part with my passport! I jumped right to the reception window, demanding our passports, intending to go elsewhere. I’m not saying I did the right thing, at least my temper was not desirable; nevertheless, they indicated we’d get the papers back once they photo copy them, so we should stay there.


Day 341.


   We were up until 5 am watching two games of the football world cup. At 8 we got awakened by knocking. I staggered to the door – the hotel lady brought hot water in a huge thermos. I have no idea how much gratitude was reflected on my face… An hour later there was another knock on the door. This time I opened the door with an even less kind face. Two policemen were standing in front of me and asked for our papers. They inspected the passport, the visa for long minutes while I was waiting, leaning against the corridor’s wall, half asleep. Alex was sitting on his bed, in the room, with a face similarly worn-out. Then they declared that they needed to make copies of everything and asked me to follow them. We sat in a car and drove up to a little shop that did photo copying too. After like 20 pages of copying, they said goodbye nicely and the cab took me back to the hotel.

   I fell on the bed but before sleep came, I heard another knock. I opened the door in an angry way but calmed down pretty soon. The entire police staff was there. 8 officers. One of them nicely asked for our documents and we had to follow the army. We changed and went down the stairs with our escort. They must have changed their mind on the way because eventually we got as far as the room next to the reception where we were asked to sit down. The lady who was supposed to participate as a translater, didn’t speak much English but the questions started to pour. Where are we headed, where have we stayed before, etc. Stern faces but the tone was kind. The friendly interrogation lasted about an hour, then they suddenly stood up, smiled, told us everything was okay and let us go.

   Though the bed was tempting, we packed and went on. After a rather amateur way of parking on the mountain road and a few kilometres of pedalling we ended up in a settlement resembling a village.

   With the help of two guys we took a room in the little town’s –presumably- only building suited for that purpose. We created quite a sensation. The boys even took us to the local photographer to take a picture of us there.


Day 342.


   In the morning our host took us to the pride of the little town, the museum exhibiting graves and tools explored in the 70s, presenting the art and lives of the natives. When we got back, we packed. Before departure I was asking for the change from last day’s 100 yuan banknote but he indicated it was 50 each, so 100 all in all. What?! For 50 yuan per capita we’d easily find a proper hotel room with separate bathroom and extras. We considered even the 50 too much but eventually we accepted it. The two guys that led us to this place were there, too but the local force didn’t matter, the owner was putting his feet down. I was mad but we couldn’t go to the police because we stayed there illegally. We left the place in fury but we were sure that the bad reputation of our ’museum guide’ would spread quickly in the village.

   The boys accompanied us to a bicycle mechanic where –surrounded by like 20 locals- we got a new pedal in 5 minutes at a low price. Alex sounded his music and I started pedalling. We took a circle on the main street of the village. We were passing curious and smiling faces. I was still mad at our host but as soon as we left the school, my spirits rose immediately. And the following few minutes affected my day, maybe even more.

   In the windows of the school building having many storeys, children appeared. The little heads were laughing and screaming, the little arms were waving. We couldn’t get close enough to the school but one block later it turned out we didn’t have to. From the street leading up to the main entrance, a whole bunch of kids were rushing toward us, shouting. We turned back. Alex was on fire, he never stopped playing. On a slope I got stuck -with one hand holding the camera, with the other one trying to push the tricycle- but for only a moment. Tiny hands grabbed both Vita and our backpacks and Vita was suddenly given momentum. We were literally flying toward the school. The keys were jumping, the kids were screaming, laughing and running, tossing the music playing vehicle.

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   Reaching the main entrance they gave us a last push and let us go. We turned our heads and saw that someone –a teacher, presumably- was guiding them back to the school yard. We waved goodbye on our way down , then, at the main road we turned to Lanzhou.


   The hills right next to the road were altered by mountains. After another flat tyre we pushed our ’three-wheeled circus’ for a bit, then managed to stop a truck that gave us a ride to the next small town. We took a room and at the nearby market we got equipped with all kinds of unknown food – we got prepared for the night’s three football games.


Days 343-344.


   We got up late. We devoted the afternoon to the film (Concert on Three Wheels, see above). Alex mobilized great energies and started to work on the music, I, for the time being, was preparing technical things for the editing. The structure slowly began to take shape.

   Next day it was time for us to give up Vita. We didn’t need to go far. The bicycle and motor mechanic’s shop was barely 200 metres from the hotel. We got surrounded amazingly fast, and the bargaining started. Somehow, there was no communication barrier in this situation… Eventually, our three-wheeled got sold way under the purchase price but we didn’t mind as we did not buy it for business purpose in the first place. Although she only spent two weeks with us, we truly missed her for days afterwards.

translated by Agoston Galambos








Categories: English, China, by Peter

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