My original working title for today’s post was going to be called “hell on earth”, but when I noticed the decimal five on the GPS, I thought I’d turn it into another 50k guide. You still remember the original one (50k – a beginner’s guide)? It’s been a while.
Well okay guys, here we go:
There are a couple of things you might need for a successful 50k-walk. Legs of steel could be good, but actually you can also do without them. At least I did. Another thing that might be helpful is if you have spent a terrible night out before and are willing to do just about ANYTHING to get to a nice and safe place by the end of the day.
You see, I had practically gotten no sleep at all, with my tent always ready to take off and do the magic carpet ride at any given point.
There were some instances when I actually drifted away into a sleep-like state, and I remember seeing myself in a dream during one of those instances: there I was in my tent on that hill, only the hill was part of a motorcycle dirt track. It was shocking at first, with all the action and the noise going on, and I got pretty scared, but when one of the bikes finally landed on top of my tent, crushing it and sending it down the hill in a landslide, I remember feeling strangely happy about the turn of events. It was like the struggle was finally over…
Anyways, back to reality in the morning, when the worst seemed to be over:
I got up eventually and did my dance around the campsite, trying to pack up and protect what was rightfully mine.
When I had finally managed to stuff everything together, the day didn’t look too rosy to me:
The winds were still going strong out there, so in spite of the rising temperatures, I was forced to wear my jacket all day:
There is a steel shelter out in the desert about 85km from Xingxingxia, and my friend Abdu (walking from Beijing to Bad Nenndorf) had been telling me about it: “the local authorities put up this thing out there, it’s for people like you, maybe you can spend the night out there?”
Well, I found the shelter today…
…and when I looked inside, I found out…
…people had been using it as a toilet.
Here’s a short message to whoever did this: shame on you.
The rest of the day was just dust:
Sometimes I came across little shacks out there next to the road:
But I didn’t bother to stop.
That’s one of the other things that might also help you pull off the 50k: the grudge.
You see, I’ve been thinking about this all day: should I, for once, speak my mind about traffic in China or not? It’s obviously going to get pretty unpleasant. But since I had a grudge anyways, I thought: why not?
So here it is – traffic in China.
First I have to say something: I think we Germans could learn a lot from you people here. We could learn about being good hosts, about giving a smile to total strangers, and we could definitely learn a bit about how to respect our elderly.
But let’s face it: your traffic sucks, period.
I’ve always wondered about this: how could a nation of such gentle and nice people turn into a horde of selfish idiots once they get into their cars? How could a brilliant civilization like this produce such a mass of mental midgets on wheels? I think most Chinese people probably shouldn’t be allowed to drive around like this.
– D.O.I. is a terribly common thing over here. Real men get hammered at the dinner table. And then they get into their cars and drive home.
– You can see lots of vehicles without license plates practically everywhere. They say it’s all new cars that just haven’t gotten their registration yet. A large amount of those “new cars” are in fact upper class vehicles, and you can easily tell from the wear on the tires that they have already had quite a bit of mileage on them.
– Drivers generally tend to ignore crosswalk markings and just speed right through. I once asked a policeman what the white stripes on the ground were for. He told me I could walk across the street there. WTF??
– Even traffic lights don’t always seem to get the respect they deserve. Better watch out for that occasional wanker running a red light or turning left or right into a bunch of pedestrians crossing the street.
– They seem to make a habit of overusing lanes, having 4 cars traveling on a 2-lane road and so on.
– A lot of drivers seem to have a fundamental misconception about the appropriate use of the horn. You see, for them it’s not about alerting other people of an exceptionally dangerous situation. Instead, a lot of drivers just leave their hand constantly on the horn, maybe as a way to pass the time or something. I honk, therefore I am. Others are probably under the superstition that they can make obstacles explode just by honking at them. I don’t know.
– One fundamental misconception seems to be that a big fancy car is automatically going to make you look cool. Well it can do that. But if you really have a 3,2-liter imported luxury vehicle from Europe under your ass and can’t even back that thing up into a standard parking lot by yourself, you just look like a moron, sorry. 18-year-old high school girls in Germany can do that shit better than you, so give it a break and take some driver’s ed, fool!
– Or how about throwing garbage out the window while driving?
There is one thing particularly difficult about China: it’s the ancient concept of “face 面子”. Keeping one’s face can mean even though a person has behaved in an inappropriate manner, others might be reluctant to point it out too directly, in order to avoid making that person feel uncomfortable. That can be a very nice thing, and could possibly be seen as proof for an ancient civilization that has been highly refined over the course of the centuries. So far so good. But this whole concept, on the other hand, can also mean that a person behaving like a total jerk is never going to realize it. Then eventually, others might be led to adopt that kind of jerk-like behavior for themselves, just to avoid being pushed around by the minority of jerks.
I think this is what’s happening in Chinese traffic. Instead of a society of civilized human beings abiding by an accepted code of conduct, it’s everyone for himself now.
A sad thought, and I’m sorry I felt the need to point it out in such a direct manner.
All this being said, I also have realized that a lot of things are in the process of improving, or have already been improving over the course of the last few years. A lot of the municipal authorities have taken on a stricter attitude towards traffic violations, and there are often specially designated people taking care of traffic flow at major intersections in the bigger cities.
One last observation: it’s not about what car you drive, it’s how you drive it.
I carried that grudge all the way through the desert:
…then I got another flat tire:
I chose to ignore it and just keep walking. The caboose only got a bit heavier and made some funny sounds, but I liked that better than fixing the stupid thing.
Some dude had told me about a gas station 9km ahead, so I figured I’d make it there before sundown, totaling just a bit over 40km that day.
Well the dude was wrong, there was no gas station. Instead I passed by a huge mine or something like that:
I only saw it glowing in the distance, still hoping for that gas station to miraculously appear.
Then, well into the mid-forties, there was this house out in the open:
I got a bunch of cool sugary drinks, drank them down on the spot, and then inquired about that gas station I was supposed to be looking for.
“Maybe another 4km”, they told me. Maybe…
So I kept walking, counting my steps:
“one, two, three, for” … “ninety-two, ninety-three, ninety-four”… “six hundred forty-eight, six hundred forty-nine”…
I counted to 1.000, three times, then my misery was over, and I fell on a small bed in a tiny motel near the gas station at Luotuojuanzi.
“Don’t wake me up until noon!” I told the boss of the place, then I washed my feet and fell asleep.
My suffering was over. At least for today.