Journal - Napló

Days 345-367. Three of us (China 4.)

Posted on December 23, 2013 at 12:15 AM




  This blog does not have much to do with China. Although the "story" is set in China, and the Chinese authorities play a role in it, it does not say much about Chinese culture. I hope that in a few weeks I will be able to return to this gigantic country and continue with getting to know what I have learned about only half-way. 

Days 345-346.

   We carried on without Vita. It didn't take us much time to reach Lanzhou. They let us out of the car at the Muslim part of the city and we got accommodation here. The cable TV didn't work in the whole building and so we watched the evening (night) in an internet café. 

   The day after we spent the whole day at the highway exit but we didn't get a ride. In the end we decided to try it separately. Rock, paper, scissors. - Alex can start. In about 1.5 hours a passenger car to him. I walked up to the toll booth. In the meantime it became dark but in an hours' time a truck came and its two cheerful drivers invited me for a ride. Our basis for having a good time was: "one of us explaining something and the other not understanding a word" -we had great laughs. The drove until the city of Baiyin. Within the city they parked at a huge, open-air restaurant and we joined their friends, who were already having a great time.


  They ordered some more beers and we downed them from small glasses as if they were shots. Meanwhile I fought hard to try to explain what country I came from. Kudos to my memory, I forgot the Chinese name of Hungary again, and because my knowledge of Chinese did not contain any word that could have helped our little geography guessing game, after a while we gave up (the map was left in my bag in the truck). The result of the battle did not make anyone less jolly, however. More and more beers were ordered, and later some grilled treats on sticks, mostly for me. We "conversed" for hours but ultimately the only info I got to know about them was that they were all professional drivers and the number of their children. 

   It was past midnight when we got back into the car. They left me at a cheap hotel and said goodbye. There was much for me to thank these great people.

Days 347-348.

   The morning hours were all about the NBA final. After the players of the L.A. Lakers held up the trophy, I packed and left. 

   I had no idea which part of the city I'm in and how I will find the way to the North. I tried once or twice to ask locals about it, but it was in vain. Eventually, after about half an hour of walking I saw the first signpost that showed me the way. As I was walking in the outskirts of the city, a Muslim gentleman at a sawmill offered me some sunflower seeds and tea. I was soaking in sweat but after the tea break, after having walked for a few kilometers, a truck picked me up and we dashed creating a cool, dry wind among the hills of the Southern Gobi desert. 


   The kind person, who picked me up, made an effort to put me on a bus in the end. I of course started out on foot towards the other side of the toll booth...where for 3-4 kms there was no main road but a row of sellers. I received a shorter ride and I felt like I was in the home stretch. This happiness was of course killed by the waiting time, but after ca. 2 hours, thanks to a pickup truck, it returned.

   This part of the Gobi desert fascinated me. Life and death were co-present. The dry sand hills were jagged by green grass patches and in some places there were cultivated (watered) pieces of land.


   They left me at the Vinchuan exit at 11 pm. Another long walk followed in the dark, along with the occasional appearance of dogs, who were not very content with my presence. When I arrived to the city I took a taxi to the train station - knowing it is the only place in the city that Alex will surely be able to find. 

In the meantime I was in contact with my friend. He was out of luck - he spent almost two days in one place. Eventually he took a bus (the helpful toll booth people haggled a cheaper price for him) and the next day our little team was together again.  

Days 349-350.

   We wanted to get to the road that ran by the Great Wall. after some walking we asked an elderly gentleman, who eventually stopped a taxi for us and gave the driver directions. We hoped for the best when we got into the car of a lady, who chewed bubble gum and had other habits that reminded of European male taxi drivers. We ended up at a bus station. We did our best to explain where we wanted to get to - but of no avail. 

   In Xining, a city of several millions, we spent hours looking for a map but we didn't even find a bookstore. Therefore it was a pleasant surprise when beside the train station of this smaller city we found a map in a little store. Trusting our new accessory, we asked about a bus that would take us out of the city. They redirected us to another bus station...where they told us that there is no bus ride in that direction, we'd have to take a taxi. After a few head-shaking drivers we found a taxi driver, who was ready to take us to the crossing indicated with an X on the map.


   They picked us up very fast and after a short ride we were again at a toll booth...but we weren't welcome. There was no choice,   we had to start out on foot towards the highway. There was loud shouting but no hands grabbing after us. The next car took us as far as Yanchi.

   Beside the road little ruins and sand dunes started appearing that were signs that we were getting closer to the Great Wall. We hoped that sooner or later we'd find a part that had not been renovated but would "look like a wall".

   I loved Yanchi. It reminded me of Golmud. Near empty streets, the buildings less high, kind smiles. With the help of a taxi driver gentleman we found a great hotel room, and were ready to watch the match that day. This turned out to be a bit complicated as well.

   At dinner they tried to rip us off with a ridiculously large amount. They didn't let us into the net café, referring to the provincial regulation that the computers can only be used with a Chinese ID. No problem, let's get back to the hotel. 

   Policemen at the reception. They asked for our visas and made a photocopy and then we could return to our rooms. A quick refreshing shower, on the bed in shorts only. Knocking on the door. With Alex we look at each other and then he stands up with a sigh and opens the door. Two policemen accompanied by two young girls march into the room. We offer them place but I don't leave the bed. The girls translate, the policemen and polite and tell us that we can't stay in this hotel. Why? Because it is not safe. I burst out in laughter, in the end everybody is laughing. In any case, rules are rules. But we don't have money for the most expensive hotels. A few phone calls and then they tell us that we won't need to pay for the new room. We got our money back from the "dangerous" hotel and then the taxi took us to one, where we wouldn't even dare to as about the price as it is so clear that it wasn't designed for our wallets. We get our room and then the policeman tells us that we can't leave our room the next day until they give us a permission. Why? Because something is not right with our visas.

   No problem, we'll survive - and even more - at such a place for a day without problems.

   The morning after they woke us up by banging on the door. they asked for our passports as well and then let us know that everything was fine. The problem was caused by the fact that the previous day we hadn't shown them our passports, only our visas. They thought we had no passports...We said good-bye to our luxury room and went to see the Wall. The renovated part was only a few meters away from the neighboring resident houses. The part of the wall they didn't touch...well that looked rather like a long sand hill than a wall. The centuries did not treat it well. 

   That day we made it to Jignbiang. We rented a room in the outskirts hoping that the day after we would easily find the way out. By that time we were in contact with Kenneth, who flew to China so that we could celebrate the first birthday of Kepesita together. Lishi was where the meeting was about to take place.


Day 351.


   After we asked a few young people for directions, we took a taxi and had us driven up to the toll booth. More precisely, up to a poll booth. It soon turned out that from there we won't really be able to get to Lishi. The way back we were able to get a ride from a jeep and were back in the city again and we didn't even know the direction of our destination. We asked around again and then started out on foot, hoping to bump into a sign. After an uphill walk and a few liters of sweat we took a taxi. I drew, I explained, I used my hands for gesturing - the driver stopped and were advised against taking the ride. It was Alex's turn. Another taxi. Alex's toils seemed more and more promising and the taxi was going with a sense of purpose...somewhere. We approached a sign that indicated the bus station and the destination of our driver became clearer and clearer. The neighboring sign saved us, which showed the way towards East. We were able to convince the driver just in time to turn right. After a few kilometers the meter started to approach a dangerous amount of money, so we stopped and continued on foot. 

   Not much later, being onboard a highway cleaning car transporting truck we were caught up in trying to guess where we would end up with this ride. We ended up in a toll booth of a small town that didn't have much traffic, but there we got helping hands. The two girls who were working there and their friends stopped the first truck towards the East that took us to Wubu. Another truck and we were already walking in the dark at the exit to Lishi.


   A van stopped beside us and the driver told us that he would take us to the city for 20 yuan. By that time we knew the name of the hotel where Kenneth was waiting for us. The driver said all right, he'll take us there for 20.

   He asked several people, he called colleagues but did not find the place. I was angry that if he doesn't even know the place, why did he makes us believe so. Finally he stopped somewhere in the city and indicated, "that was it" and asked for the money. Alex, in order to prevent a more serious battle between the driver and me, handed him a 10 yuan note. 

   We asked several taxi drivers but all just shook their heads, until finally one of the told us that although he does not know the place, we should get into his car and he'll find it. Another sightseeing tour. In the end we stopped at a hotel. Alex ran in, put his phone on the charger. It took me pains to persuade the driver to come with us to the hotel, where we called Kenneth, whose newly found friend, Andy, explained to the driver where they were. In a few minutes the "two Kepesitas" could hug each other. 

   Andy, whom Kenneth got to know in the local internet café, invited all three of us to his flat. We talked until dawn.  

Days 352-353.


   We spent these two days with Andy and his friends but between basketball and table tennis matches, lunches and dinners we sometimes half an hour with Kenneth to discuss what happened to us in the past few months. Kenneth, after the months in Lebanon and a number of adventurous hitch-hiking rides ended up in the waters of Northern Norway, head-jumping into the world of the crab fishermen, which was dangerous, required hard work but was inviting even if just for the characters involved and their lifestyle. 

   But now we were together, to celebrate.


Days 354-356.

   This is when it really came out how much the knowledge of the Chinese language means when travelling in China. Kenneth studied first in Oslo then in Beijing. Despite the fact that there were three of us (Kenneth, Alex and I), Kenneth was able to get a ride for us at the toll booth in record time. 

   We reached the city of Tayuan late afternoon. Searching for the hotel lasted for a while (there were no vacancies in most places) but in the end we were able to enjoy the evening match on TV while eating pizza. 

   The day after the toll booth people were not as hospitable as before during our trip. They wanted to send us to a place where we would have had no chance with sticking out our thumbs, so we simply walked through the gates towards the highway. They told us not to do it but no actions followed. We walked up at the exit and in a few minutes we were passengers in a car.


   After some misunderstandings we ended up in the centre of a small town that was several hundred years old. Two young girls showed interest in us and joined us. They took us to a cheap restaurant and then laughingly demanded the improvised, mobile street music performed by Kenneth and Alex. 

   That day we had luck with accommodation. In the first hotel where the taxi took us to we could rent a room.

Day 357.


   On this day the team split up for a while.  After the first ride – we were putting up our thumbs at an exit – Kenneth realized that he didn’t have his passport with him. He went back without having any idea of the name of the previous night’s hotel and its address.

   Alex and I continued our path. After two rides we found ourselves at a huge, but not very frequented parking place. The policemen chased us away from the exit and while we tried to “make use of” the little attendance the parking place had, they tried to dissuade us from hitchhiking. Finally an officer arrived and as it was already getting dark we accepted their offer to take us into the city.


   At 10 pm we still didn’t have accommodation. All hotel were full, except for the ones with many stars. We were already laughing from pain after all the walking and expensive taxi rides, when the driver talked up a lady and we soon found ourselves in a modern flat of a new residential building. But the “struggle” didn’t end there. Alex fought a nerve-wrecking communication battle with the husband and the interpreter he had invited (who of course didn’t really speak English) and I tried to get the lady to “hook up” over the phone with Kenneth, who had just arrived to the train station.

   Finally all three of us were in the room (Kenneth with his passport) and the couple left. We dived onto the couch. It is time to put some food in our tummy, I thought.


   After 10 minutes I finally found a store. With a coffee machine! I thought that the guys would be happy for some, so I ordered two strong coffees. The store clerk girl asked whether she got it right – it was all fine. So she put the cup into the machine and pressed the “weak coffee” button. I told her it wasn’t right. She said sorry, another cup and the “weak coffee” button. I told her again. Finally another girl told me that if I want a strong coffee, I would need to pay up extra. I gave up. Beside the two weak coffees I bought a jar of instant coffee powder.

   The day after we made a visit to the police where they told us that the extension of the visa would take up ca. 1 week. So we decided to rather submit our request in the capital.

   With one ride we made it to Beijing where Oskar, a Norwegian friend of Kenneth, and his girlfriend Stephanie were already waiting for us with accommodation.


Days 358-367. Beijing


   The days in Beijing I would characterize as “I went on holiday”. With the guidance of Kenneth, Oskar and Stephanie we jumped into the “capitalist” world of Beijing.

   Huge dinners, beer evenings watching football…and endless conversations, plan-making. Alex cut the music of the tricycle video and I cut its video material, the Kepesita webpage got a new outlook , annual summary blogs were written and a million “unwritten” plans for the future.


   The local authorities and the regulations pertaining to the group visa to Tibet “woke us up”, however. It turned out that neither Alex nor I can extend our visas and so only a few days were left for us to leave the country. Alex took a train and travelled to Hongkong through Shanghai in order to get a new visa. Afterwards he wanted to spend some more days in China before he’d take the ferry to Japan, the end station of his one-year trip.

   I had to forget about Mongolia as I did not have sufficient time to get the Mongolian visa. We celebrated the birthday of Kepesita on 7 July and my Chinese visa expired on the 9th. Therefore I decided to take the ferry to South Korea. From there I was to go to Japan and then hopefully to Siberia and Mongolia.

   The ferry started at 8 in the morning. We didn’t sleep at all last night with Kenneth and in the morning we took the train to Tianjin, the port of Beijing and after a long taxi ride we got there on time to catch the ferry. Another good-bye. Again too early and again too fast.

translated by Szegi



Categories: English, China, by Peter

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