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Hitching across the Middle Kingdom

Hangzhou, China5.29.2007“Plan had I none, as yet, for continuing my journey. . .But plans are quickly made in the vagabond world.” -Harry Franck, A Vagabond Journey Around the WorldThough I fell in love with Mongolia I felt that it was time to leave. Feelings strike out of nowhere and I have to listen to them. [...]

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Hangzhou, China

“Plan had I none, as yet, for continuing my journey. . .But plans are quickly made in the vagabond world.”
-Harry Franck, A Vagabond Journey Around the World

Though I fell in love with Mongolia I felt that it was time to leave. Feelings strike out of nowhere and I have to listen to them. I was really digging this country and then the call to leave just came upon me. Soon after Lauren told me that he was going to the train station to get a ride back to China and asked if I wanted him to also pick me up a ticket. As it is an absolute sacrilege to ignore your base feelings when on the road, I quickly took him up on his offer. Mongolia is a country for friends, tents, and beer….and I had none of the these. So I struck out with Lauren Everly (www.loreneverly.org) by train for the Chinese border. We entered our compartment and were relieved to find it occupied with a Mongolian woman and her two daughters. We were relieved that we would probably not have to deal with any drunk Mongols on this journey. We gave a brief greeting to our compartment companions, arranged our bindles, sat down, and the train promptly pulled out of the station.

Our Mongolian train compartment companion who wanted to marry Lauren. Luckily we arrived in Zaymn Uud in the nick of time, and I was able to continue on with my travelling mate.

We rolled on through the Mongolian grasslands as night overtook us. Lauren and I joked around and played nonsensical card games with the Mongolian woman and her daughters. The little one, who was around 7 years old, would tell me what to do and I actually won the first game- though I did not have a clue what I was doing. Finally, Lauren got tired of playing a card game that seemed to have no rhyme or reason and tried to revert back to reading his book. But we soon found ourselves immersed in an impromptu language exchange lesson, and we taught each other words of English, Mongolian, and Chinese throughout the night ride.

In the morning I watched the sun rise over the Gobi and actually felt excited to be going south again. I gave my word to a friend down in Hangzhou that I would travel with him around SE Asia this summer- and I wanted to make good on it. So I was riding back for my fourth go through the Middle Kingdom.

Jeeps, buses, and big wheeled vans lined up bumper to bumper all the way to the Chinese frontier. It took us nearly four hours to get through the border hassles.

We got off the train at Zaymn Uud and quickly jumped into a van that was going to the borderland. Lauren and I took our places on a couple small corners of the already full van seats and took off down the highway for only a few miles before we hit the long line of jeeps waiting to cross into China. There we sat for a good hour or two without moving a hundred meters, as the dust from the Gobi blasted against the van’s outer walls and squeezed in through the cracks in the window joints; eventually covering everyone and everything in the interior. Our fellow travellers were six Mongolian women, and we were all packed in on the two benches that made up the van’s seating. Soon another big bottomed Mongol woman jumped into the van and aimed her large ass towards the meeting point between me and the woman that I was sitting next to and efficiently wedged me off of the little corner of seat that I was occupying and knocked me to the floor. I gave a hearty, sarcastic laugh and retreated to the tire hub in the van’s rear. It was more comfortable back there anyway, and I did not need to be burdened by having half of someone else’s butt cheek rested upon my lap. We sat in this lane for nearly four hours until the gates were finally opened and it was our turn to cross into China.

We raced with a crowd of border crossers into the Mongolian garrison and were immediately met with another line that led to the door. Lauren was not in the mood for any more lines though and, at noticing Mongolians walking past the line and stepping in front of everyone, he boldly followed in turn. I hung closely behind him as Lauren is a pretty big guy and, when it comes down to it, looks pretty frightening. Nobody was going to stop him, so we walked right beyond everyone and up to the front of the line as if we were Mongolian. Passing through the Mongolian exit garrison did not present us with any difficulties and we quickly made headway to the Chinese side. The fellows who were guarding this crossing were a touch overly diligent and look upon Lauren and I suspiciously. Most all foreign travellers pass this border on the Tran-Siberian Express tour train. As we did not wish to pay the extra fees to ride the tourist train we unintentionally ruffled the feathers of the Chinese border guards. Lauren attempted to go through the passport inspection desk first and the inspector picked up his thick (three sets of extra pages, visas from over seventy countries) passport like a sandwich and showed it to another inspection guard at another desk. They did not seem to know what do do with so think a passport and chattered on in Chinese about what they should do. Eventually, after long deliberation, they decided to just stamp his passport and let him pass. When I got up they gave me the same run down and inspected my passport diligently, shown ultraviolet lights upon my multiple Chinese visa many times over, looked from my photo to my face a dozen times, chattered in Chinese, and then went through the entire process again and again. Eventually the inspectors seemed to realize that there was only so much inspecting that they could and, with a touch of defeat, stamped me back into China. As soon as the stamp left the page, I quickly grabbed for my passport and saw the inspector’s eyes bulge when he caught a glimpse of my tattooed hand- as I quickly made way for the door.

I met back up with Lauren and asked him if he, “wanted to get out of this desert together.” As we were both aiming for Shanghai and were hitching it made sense for us to go pared. He agreed. It was an agreement that would work to the advantage of both of us- as I speak enough Chinese and he had a little post it note with the names of the major towns on our route. Neither of us had a guide book nor even a map, and we were completely relying on Lauren’s short handed notes and his memory. Any way we turned it we knew that we would get there…somehow.

Now that we were in China it was time to get on the road, stick out our thumbs, and find out what would happen. Lauren was quickly proving to be a very resourceful travel companion, and he did a brief geographical calculation and figured out where the highway should have been. We walked in this direction and found it within ten minutes. The wind was blowing the Gobi’s sand through the air and it soon found its way into all the creases of our faces and clothing. The landscape out by the highway was barren and devoid of absolutely anything. The sky was clear and the weather perfectly livable. It was a beautiful day for hitchhiking.

So we stepped out on the highway and put up our thumbs. The highway was empty except for the orange sand was blowing steadily across its breathe. One truck went by and left us in the dust, then another. We slowly began walking down the road towards our destination thousands of kilometers in the distance. Another truck zipped past us with scarcely a look. A man in military gear walked by us. Another truck. We were anxious for that first ride. In all hitch hiking journeys the first ride is the most important, exciting, and memorable. We nervously awaited. Would this work? Lauren looks like a big skin head and myself like a Muslim from Xinjiang. Could this work at all? Would the Chinese provide us with rides all the way across the country? We were in the middle of asking ourselves these apprehensive questions that are usually inherent to the beginning of any long hitch hiking journey. It is a time when your mind is thousands of miles away, though your feet are still where you began. The excitement of the open road!

Lauren thumbing it out on the expressway.

Just when we were beginning to slightly doubt our means of travel an SUV stopped and a middle aged woman with curly dyed hair asked us where we were going. This is a tricky question for the hitch hiker in Asia, as not many Chinese people know the ways of hitching and will oftentimes feel as if you expect them to take you all the way to your destination. So you have to be careful to not name a location that is too far away. Many rides also will not take a simple “that way” as an answer, as they cannot comprehend that we are travelling by thumb across the country for the fun of it. All too often drivers think that there is something wrong with us, or that we are lost, and they just want to give us a lift to the nearest train station. So we found that it is best to tell the driver any thing that will get us into the vehicle. Once we are inside the driver has no choice but to take us somewhere. We would often times try to ask the driver where they were going and if they answered us outright we would just say that we were going to the same destination and laugh at the coincidence. But if the driver does not disclose his destination until we unveil ours- which is very common- a little tact is needed, and it is often times better to name a really close city and then finagle things once your moving down the road.

But we did not yet know this lesson and blew a ride by naming a destination that was beyond that of the woman in the SUV. She tried to get us into her vehicle by offering us a ride to a train station. She thought that we did not know what we were doing or crazy and she closed the door and drove off. So we were still out on the highway with our thumbs stuck out to every passing vehicle when a red car full of three Chinese men pulled up. We just jumped right in without asking any questions and rode all the way out our of Inner Mongolia. It was a great ride and the men were amiable. One of them wrote us a poem of our travels that I could not really read. We did not talk to each other too much and we just rode out the long ride looking out the window. Our journey had began and we just watched the miles flow by us in the swiftly moving car.

We soon came near to Jinin, which was our rides final destination, and we asked to be let out on at a fork in the highway. The three men in the car were very confused and did not want to let us out. We had to assert ourselves a little forcefully as we did not want to miss our turn. They got the point and let us out while mumbling offers to take us to a train or bus station. We thanked them heartily and set off down the ramp to the highway to the south. We walked along this road with our thumbs stuck out to every passing vehicle, and within ten minutes a fast moving white car came to a screeching halt. The driver jumped out and greeted us in English and we jumped in the back seat.

The driver was a young man who just recently got married and had a young kid. But he did not seem too worried about whether or not he left his wife a widow, as he sped off down the highway at over two hundred kilometers an hour. He weaved in and out of traffic at a race car pace- passing on the left, passing on the right hand shoulder, tractor trailers seemed to fly passed us backwards. Our driver was even undaunted by the police, as he more than once would pull up fast behind a cop car and blare his horn until he moved out of our way. At one point we almost went flying off of the road, which caused the driver to mutter a little “sorry” complete with a giggle. He was loving it. We were loving the fact that we were just moving. The landscaped passed by us in streaks and I wondered how many hitchhikers had met their ends in this manner. In very little time we were at the driver’s destination and we jumped out onto the highway completely satisfied with our days journey. We made it all the way through Inner Mongolia and into Shanxi Province nearly as far as Taiyuan. It was evening now, and we walked off the highway, jumped over a fence, and laid down under a nice shade tree in a farmer’s field. We just laid under that tree for a couple of hours in a cloud of excitement and accomplishment- we were making way on a difficult journey. The stars were beautiful and we pondered upon them until we drifted off into sleep with the crickets.

Members of the Jeep club that tried to take us hostage with their hospitality. “How long will you stay. One? Two days?” “Ahhh, we were just thinking of staying for an hour or two.” They fed us the best meal of our journey though (and in fact it was our only meal if you don’t count stale crackers) and were incredible amiable companions to while away a couple of hours with by a reservoir in an industrial wasteland of Hebei Province.

We awoke with the dawn the next morning after sleeping through a night that got pretty chilly. I woke up shivering at around two o’clock and had to put on all of the clothing that I had in my rucksack. Between the hours of two and five nights are usually at their coldest and the traveller loathes waking up at these hours. Even after putting on all of my clothing I was still so cold that I just sat up with my legs crossed beneath me and gently rocked back and forth. The night sky was beautiful though, so my discomfort was not that much of a burden. Before I knew it I was back sleeping on my bindle as if it were a pillow. The next time that I awoke the sun was breaking over the horizon and I jumped up gleeful that I was about to begin another day of travelling across China. Lauren also got up and we packed up our swag and headed back up on to the highway.

Before we knew it a truck pulled up next to us and its door opened for us to get in. Both Lauren and I squeezed into the singly bucket seat that was for the passenger and we set off down the highway at a pace that was the exact opposite of our last ride the day before. Slowly we chugged on, as we sat uncomfortably in the small seat. The driver soon offered me his bed which was behind us and ran horizontally across the cabin. I jumped at this offer and was soon sleeping as we crept through the Chinese countryside.

The driver then made a couple of wrong turns that Lauren called out in advance and eventually dropped us off on the road to Taiyuan. We thanked him and set off again down the highway with our thumbs sticking out. Within a half hour we were swept up by a man in a black car. We were again off towards the south. The driver asked us where we were going and I made the mistake of saying “Shanghai.” At hearing this he began freaking out and waving his arms and yelling, as he thought that we expected him to take us all the way there. We tried to explain what we were doing but he could not understand. He kept telling us that we had to take an airplane there and that we could not hitchhike all the way and so on. He then tried to forcibly take us to the airport, and we had to nearly resort to jumping out of his car in order to remain on the highway. The driver soon pulled over and we went to get out. But the driver wanted payment. I pretended that I could not understand him as Lauren collected his bags and stepped out onto the pavement. I tried to follow him but the driver began grabbing at me and it took some effort for me to get out. I told the driver that we did not have any money to give him as I slammed shut the door. The driver told us that we were bad and took off down the highway in the direction that we wanted to continue going.

We were now at the express way ring that encircles the city of Taiyuan, and the traffic was heavy and multi directional. We knew that we needed to make a turn to the east somewhere around here, but did not know exactly where. Should we get off the highway and walk to the place where the expressway splits or should we just trust that we could explain to the driver that we just wanted to go to the eastern highway? We chose the later and flagged down a taxi cab that was passing by us- as we figured that we did not have far to go and a taxi would drop us off anywhere we wanted without feeling responsible for us. As we were running to get into the cab, which stopped for us twenty meters up the road, Lauren’s leg fell through a drainage hole at the highway’s edge and he fell really hard. I though for certain that his leg was broken and I began looking around for material to splint it with. But he slowly rose to his feet and began inspecting his right hand, which was gushing blood all over the place. I quickly dived into my bag and procured a bottle of iodine and some bandages and the taxi driver gave us some napkins. In a few minutes the blood stopped squirting and we hopped into the cab. I told the driver that we wanted to be dropped off at the branch of the highway that broke off to the east, and he understood perfectly. He drove us a couple of miles to the point and told us how we could get over to the highway. I asked him how much money he wanted, and he said twenty kuai. I tossed ten down on the passenger seat and walked off. Ten kuai was fair enough for the short ride, and he did not protest.

Beautiful Shandong countryside.

Lauren and I then stepped off of the highway for a few minutes so that he check his damage. In addition to the cut on his hand he also tore a big hole in his pants and had a small cut beneath the tear. He cleaned out his wounds and we then fought our way to the other side of the expressway to the eastern branch. We stuck out our thumbs and almost immediately a young guy stopped and began addressing us in English. He was not going our way but he did get out of his car so that he could chat with us a little. He gave us the same rap about how we should take a train or a bus and that he did not think that people would help us all the way to Shanghai. We politely thanked him for his advice but told him that we disagreed. We then told him that we had hitched all the way from Mongolia and proudly thought that we could keep it going to any destination we chose. He gave us a skeptical smile and jumped back into his car and drove off into the distance. If we knew what was to befall us that day maybe we would have taken his advice.
Lauren and I then walked past the divergent forks in the highway and got onto the road that was going east towards Shijiazhuan. We were quickly picked up in a van full of Chinese men and were again cruising down the highway. After around five minutes the drivers turned around and told us that they wanted two hundred yuan for the ride! That is around $27! No way. Lauren and I scowled at them and I said that we wanted to immediately get out of their vehicle. The men kept driving. I told them again a little more forcefully. They kept driving. I asserted my self to another level and demanded to be dropped off on the side of the highway because we did not have any money to pay our way. At this the listened and pulled over. Lauren and I got out and I told them that if we wanted to pay money that we would have taken a train. Both Lauren and I are Americans, and Americans do not pay to hitchhike. Ninety percent of the people that we got rides from did not expect to be paid, so we knew that it was not convention in China to request money from hitchhikers. We would prefer to stand on the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere than to make one of the long honed arts of the American hobo a “paying” voyage in China. So that is what we did- we stepped out into the middle of nowhere on a busy, fast moving highway.

Lauren and I quickly realized that the vehicles on the highway were moving way to fast to pick us up so we jumped down into the ditch on the side of the expressway and began walking. The ditch was strewn with dozens of piles of human shit and poop smeared toilet paper, so we needed to tread on with care. Who would want to pick up a hitch hiker who had human excrement all over the bottom of their shoes? So we stepped over the piles of wasted and made way down the the highway. We wanted to get to the next exit so that we could stand off to the side on the on ramp to give cars a space to pull off of the highway. But the next exit was surprisingly far off and we plodded on and on. Finally we realized that we were going to need to employ a different tactic. So we flagged down a bus and jumped in. At this point we did not know what our intentions were other than getting as far down the highway as possible. We went to the back of the bus and sat down in a couple of unoccupied seats. The conductor soon followed us back and tried to scam us out of an exorbriant sum of money. Slightly offended at so blantent an attempt at ripping us off we outrightly refused to give him any money. Rather we just rode, ignoring the conductor and looking out the window for the next exit. The exit was not fortwithcoming, and we had already passed the point of being able to just placidly ignore the conductor, so we demanded to be let off the bus on the side of the highway. We jumped out, looked around, and realized that we were in no better of a position than when we started- though we were a dozen more kilometers down the road. We tried the bus scam a second time and sat on the engine box in the front, just behind the driver. After a little while the driver asked us where we were going. I told him that we wanted to get off at the next exit. He said that he wanted fifty yuan for each of us- another absolutely rediculous sum. We just ignored him, and he keep driving. At the next exit we stood up and I told him to stop the bus and let us off. He demanded his money. I told him to let us off and tossed twenty yuan divergently wrapped in a couple of ones towards him. He got very angry as I only gave him a quarter of what he wanted. I told him that I gave him a good amount and demanded that he open the door. He complied and swore at us as we jumped out.

Going east to the mysterious call of Shanghai.

We were now at an on ramp to the highway and knew that there was a much greater potential that we would be picked up. So we stood in the shade of an overpass bridge and relaxed a little as we waited. Most of the vehicles on the highway were tractor trailor trucks that seemed bound by some treatise to not pick up hitchhikers, as the all drove right by us with scarcely any awknowledgement. Both Lauren and I have travelled all through China on previous journeys, and we were now greatly taken aback by how rudely we were treated in this part of the country. Neither of us had ever experienced a part of China where the people seemed to be so miserable and unfriendly. The two buses that we just took short rides on were full of stone faced Chinese who were not inclined to offer even the slightest gesture of amialbility. Usually, both Lauren and I found the Chinese to be wonderful people to travel amongst, who are generally always open to helping out and talking to foreigners. But this was not the case in the south of Hubei province, and we just wanted to get out of there as quick as possible.

We were soon picked up by two men in a van. Before getting inside we asked them if they wanted any money for the ride- we did not want to be stranded on the side of the highway again. They looked at us as if we were crazy, shook their hands in front of their faces, and said no way. So we jumped in. The man in the passenger seat was genuinely friendly towards us and made conversation for the duration of the ride. I asked him if he was married. He said that he was and that his wife was fourteen years old with no small hint of pride. I pretended to be impressed. I followed up my question by asking if they had any kids, and he again acted as if I was crazy and laughed while he emphasized the fact that, “she is only fourteen years old.” I lauged it off. The man then offered us some dried tofu, which we gobbled down- we had not really eaten too much for a day and a half- and then told us that his town is famous for its tofu. I was just glad to be eating something, I did not care too much if it was famous. We soon came to their exit, and we thanked the two men heartily for helping us on our way.

Lauren and I then walked over to the on ramp and waited scarcely two minutes before we got out next ride. It was with a group of kids in a jeep. We all talk and laughed through the industrial wastelands of China, and before they arrived at their destination they asked us if we wanted to come with them to “play.” We had little reason to decline, other than the fact that we wanted to clear the decimated local that we were in before nightfall. But it was scarcely noon time and we both could have used a little break from the highway. So I looked at Lauren, he shrugged his shoulders in a “why not” sort of way, and I told the kids that we would like to accompany them as they went to “play.” They all seemed to be really happy about this, and they turned off of the highway and into an industial park area that I have seen equaled only a few times in my life (I grew up just outside of Rochester, NY, and my entire family once worked for Kodak. So I am no stranger to industrial wastelands). The hills were torn up from mining, the flatish land around the highway was strewn with factories, coolong towers, smokestakes, and the ground was laden with junk parts of a surprising variety. The road that we were travelling on was unpaved and wound its way through worker barraks and factory corridors all along the side of the highway that we were jsut travelling on. We had no idea what “play” (the Chinese word that they used was wahr, which kind of just means recreation) entailed. We soon came up to a reservoir and figured that we were going swimming. I asked this kids if this was correct, and they told me that I could go swimming if I wanted to. It was clear that swimming was not the main objective of what we would be doing. The driver then parked the jeep in a parking area that had a few too many jeeps to be coinincidental, and we got out and met the kids’ friends who were quickly approaching to meet us. They were a really jolly bunch and a few of them were wearing “Jeep” shirts. Lauren put it all together and asked a guy who could speak a little English if this was a meeting for a Jeep club. He laughed and said that it was, and then asked us how long we would like to stay. “One day? Two days?” We were more like, “maybe one or two hours.” They seemed to be a little disappointed at this, and said that we could not leave until we at least ate lunch with them. I had no objection to this as I was hungry and knew that there was no other way out of Chinese hospitality. It was like a scene out of “Outlaws of the Marsh,” as we were treated as guest of honor. We were soon hussled into a large dining area and plates of food began appearing before us. I chowed them down. Lauren was a touch apprehensive about eating anything as he had been a vegetarian since birth and did not want to even eat the greens, as he though that they may have been cooked in meat oil. I have no idea how this kid had travelled through over seventy countries with such a strict dietary restriction. I was also a vegetarian for some years but I was always able to make amends to my situations- when meat was offered to me, I ate meat. I simply did not go out of my way to purchase meat products, but free food is free food, and the vagabond always knows what to do with free food! So we quickly chowed down some food and made way to leave the Jeep convention. To my surprise we were not restrained too much, and our hosts seemed so pleased that we ate luch with them that they were perfectly satisfied to let us leave them. The walked us up to the highway and we took some pictures of each other ere giving farewell hugs and handshakes.

Industrial wasteland of Hebei Province.

We were again bank on the road. We got a quick ride from a couple of men in a black van, and they too acted like we were crazy when we asked if they wanted us to pay them for the journey. They seemed to be a nice couple of guys who seem more interested about why we were standing in the middle of nowhere on the side of the highway than anything else. We told them that we had friends here, and when they asked who they were the only thing that I could say in my not too vast Chinese vocabulary was that they, “had big trucks.” I am not too sure if they knew what I was talking about.

Our drivers were a couple of local guys, so the ride was not took loke before they arrieved at their exit. They tried to talk us into letting them take us to the bus station but we said that we wanted to be let out on the highway. They seemed to be really concerned about this so we had to be a little assertive and just jump out of the van, thank them, and walk down the road a little until they felt released of any responsibility for us. We were in another poor area for hitching, as trucks were the main vehicles on the highway, and they all just honked and mocked our outstreched thumbs as they drove by. The on ramp was also clustered with parked trucks so we haad to venture furthure up on the highway where the cars were speeding by at lightning pace. The landscape here was gruesome- factories belching smoke into the air everywhere, trucks roaring by us one right after another without end. We knew that we were in a little hole here, but we had both had worse in our travels. So we just stuck it out and around an hour later a little red car came to a speeding halt. We jumped into the back seat without any questions and just waited for the driver to take us out of that wasteland. He soon did and we were again moving down the long road to the coast. Our drivers were amiable guys who did not ask us many questions; they just drove as we dozed off in the back seat.

Parts of the landscape that we travelled through were interesting. For one stretch there were little villages which were constructed entirely of stone and were terreced on top of each other as they were built into the sides of mountains. I do not think that I have ever experienced houses that were constructed in this way anywhere else in the world.

This ride was just what we needed, and both Lauren and I leaned back and relaxed a little as we watched the industrial wastelands of Hebei province pass behind us. We were now coming into the fertile fields of Shangdong province and everything around us was becoming lush and green. Gentle hills rose in the distance and we knew that we just passed out of the worst part of our journey. Our ride took us as far as Shijiazhuan, and we hopped out of the car and into the warm air of the Shangdong countryside.

We soon found a nice big on ramp to wait on and we just hung out in the beautiful spring afternoon. Farmers were working in their fields and we were out on the highway with our thumbs pointed up towards the sky.

We waited like this for only around a half an hour when a white car drove past us and halted a little ways beyond on the side of the road. We rushed over and jumped into the backseat. Our host were two young Chinese men who seemed to have a handle on what we were doing. the seemed to be a part of the new emerging middle class of China, and they were consequently “hip” to the outside world. They even let us pour over there road atlas, and we set the route that we would follow down the eastern coast. Our drivers told us that they were going to Jinan the capital of Shangdong Province and we quickly told them that that was also our destination.

The open road at over two hundred kilometers an hour. Our driver was a madman, but he got us to just outside of Taiyuan.

We held down this ride for a good three hundred kilometers until we arrived at the highway system that surounds the city of Jinan. We asked to be let out at the highway that branched off to the south and our drivers inquired as to where we were going. I told them that we were going to Tai’An, and they laughed and the passenger said that the driver was also going there and that he would give us a ride. This made us really happy, as we had no intention of letting this nice ride slip away. So our ride pulled off on a ramp that goes into Ji’Nan and the passenger got out to be met by his wife. Lauren and I also got out to say hello to her. We then got back into the car and went off to Tai’An.

By the time we arrived it was dark out, and we were both tired. So we walked down the off ramp and searched for a place to sleep. We soon found a suitable location on the lee side of an emabankment near the highway, and laid down to sleep under a pine tree. This night proved to be much warmer than the one that proceeded it and we slept peacefully the entire night through. We awoke early the next day and ate a few stale crackers ere getting back on the road. We walked up to the on ramp and got settled in. Our hitching location seemed to be decent, and we figured that we would probably get a ride without too long of a wait. This proved to be the furthest thig from the truth. We stood out on that highway for over two hours with our thumbs sticking out. Nobody even seemed to think of stopping for us. For the two days before our thumbs were nearly majical. All we had to do was to stick them out and we would get a ride- it was the best hitching that we could have hoped for. But now, we were sunk in the mud and knew it. We were both out of water so I suggested that we try to find a place where we could purchase some more. So we walked down off of the highway and eventually found a little kiosk that sold us cold bottles of water. Lauren also made some phone calls to his girls friends around China, while I joked around with the people at the kiosk. My Chinese was improving and I could very nearly hold my own in a conversation. They kid that I was talking kept asking to look at my pocket knife, and I complied. He eventually asked my how much I paid for it and I told him 80 kuai. He then got excited and offered to pay me this much for it. I laughed his advance off and explained that my girlfriend gave it to me as a present and that I could not sell it because it was special to me. He understood and asked for it no longer.

Lauren and I then tramped back to the highway with our spirits a little renewed. With our fresh framed of mind we got a ride in only a few minutes. It was with a middle aged Chinese man in a black automobile. He asked us where we were going with a very concerned tone. I tried to ward him off by saying that we were just going up the road. He would not take this for an answer, so I tried to explain to him that we were going to Shanghai by hitchhiking and that we did not expect him to take us the entire way there. He did not understand this and freaked out. But, as Lauren and I would not get out of his vehicle, he just pulled out on the highway and took off. But the driver soon got nervous again and pulled off at a reststop that was only around ten kilometers down the road and urged us to get out “go out and eat food, then you can hitch hike some more,” he said. We grudily complied, though we did not eat any food.

We walked back out on to the on ramp and stood out there in the mid morning sun for another two hours. The vehicles were going by much too fast to stop, and the sparse traffic that was coming from the reststop did not seem too interested in picking us up. So we just stood and waited. My arm got tired of holding it straight out, my back was weary from standing still, my mind dulled from three days continuously on the road. We only made 10 km in over five hours. I wanted to move. So I took leave of Lauren and hopped a bus back to Tai Shan. From here I rode seatless in a heavely crowded train through the night to Hangzhou.

Both Lauren and I are travellers, and I knew that there would not be any hard feelings resulting from out departure. I also wanted to collect a rock from Tai Mountain to give to Mira’s father, who would really appreciate a holy stone from the most holy mountain in all of China. I will miss Lauren, but I know that he is a travelling man and that our paths will ever be on the verge of crossing again a little further down the road.


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Filed under: Adventure, China, Deserts, Hitchhiking, Mongolia, Other Travelers, Travel Inspiration

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3722 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

1 comment… add one

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  • stan holliday June 8, 2011, 1:47 am

    I dug your story, i once hitched from south caralina to upstate ny, when i was 15 yrs of age..I’ve always wanted to travel threwout the world, mostly china,and japan. Now being 47yrs old and having five kids, that dream seems to be long gone.So keep on rocking down that highway for me..

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