The border

I was hitchhiking from St. Petersburg. Years ago I’d think of that as dangerous, cold, long and tiring. Coming from the other side, I saw it from the other side. I was looking forward to using my thumb again for moving and for counting every fifth birch tree behind the train window (which reminds me that every nation uses different way how to count using hands and fingers and it would be cool to cover it by a blog post. if i was a better blogger). So I started hitchin and was all smiling about that and then it started to be cold and tiring. Virtually the only drivers that took me were army men. Apparantely the military training teaches one of empathy and love towards other creatures. They helped me.

Helped to get to the border where was this freakishly long line. Queue of people waiting longer that the one in front of the hell’s gate. I don’t like lines. If I was going to stay the line not only I’d die there but also couldn’t make across the Baltic states (but I was dropping my ambitions to make it to Poland in one day and had no place for night arranged anyway). With a hope that there is a “EU citizens” gate I walked to the front of the line. There was no such a gate. Obviously. But the fact that I was not a Russian person smuggling weird stuff in a plastic bag but a foreigner with a decent backpack impressed the people so much they themselves told me I could go to the front.

The policewomen there were moving slowly, leaving the glass cabin for a long moments, no need to work hard to make the waiting time for the people in the queue few hours shorter, no. There is no point, the line is there everyday, again and again, never ending line of Russians with their bags. But not for the young officer, she was new. She took my passport, looked at the last page, then at me, then browsed through all the pages, back at the last page, another long look at me, then put the passport in the scanner, then under the UV light, then all pages under the light, and then repeated this whole process about 8 times. “Is there a problem?”
“No. No problem.” And she repeated the scan and light and long looks 5 more times.
Come on, I’m on the line of Europe, let me go home, don’t start with Tibet visa shit or anything. Please. I was waiting paitiently few more minutes after which she stood up and left the cabin. She went over to the second check-out cabin and returned after a while accompanied by the older policewoman. Now they did the round together. Looks, scans, lights, looks. Just tell me, tell me, what is it. Did someone put drugs in my backpack? Those fools who let me go in front of them? Is my name on the persona non grata list? Or something with the visas? I want to go home, but tell me what is it!
“Excuse me, is there a problem?” I asked again.
“No, no problem.” Said the experienced officer.
“You can go.” Said the young beautiful lady and gave me my passport with a smile.
What? Well, ok. I’m done. I just took my backpack and left the building.
When I was crossing the brifge across the river, going to Europe, there was a girl standing in the middle, laughing. We knew each other shortly from before.
“Why are you laughing so much? Now it really seems like we just managed to smuggle some shit.” I said to her.
“Do you know what she said? The lady that was checking you, when she came over to the cabin where I was being checked…”
I don’t know what to do with this guy. On the picture he is a little boy and now he looks like the monkey makake.” We bursted to a laughter.
“Ok, so now I’m a monkey, officialy. She said that aloud in Russian on public?”
“Yes, it was so hard not to laugh.”
“End of fun, now the Estonian border. Freaking border of the Shenghen. They might be tough.”

But they were not. No line there.
“Do you have anything to declare?”
“Like what?”
“Alcohol, cigarettes, …?”
“I wanted to buy vodka but I run out of money.” I thought it’s ok to joke, he was young.
“Just go, go.”
“Have a nice day!”

And I was in Europe, at home. I sat on the pavement and was just crazy smiling. I wanted to eat the last piece of bread but it must have fallen of my backpack somewhere at the station. Whatever. I took a chalk and wrote I’M HOME!

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Recalls of Mongolia

Mongolia. What did I see? A steppeland, ancestor of nomads and conquerors, a country between two superpowers, capital city with a cool name. Actually, these were the images in my mind before visiting the country but more or less it didn´t change during my short stay there. The image started to be enriched in Inner Mongolia, northern province of China. Not because of the name only, the Mongolians and their culture is strongly present in the region.

As a passing visitor you have the chance to notice the food and the language on the streets at least. Not that Chinese don’t have meaty cuisine but the Mongolian lust after meat can’t be beaten. There is mutton in everything, every dumpling was wearing horns and no soup or tea or anything is without fat. I would expect even a chocolate to contain blood drops. Obviously, this comes with the severe landscape and climate where you just can’t go without a fair slice of schnitzel. Nevertheless, I found out about 20 vegetarian or vegan restaurants in Ulaanbaatar which I doubt the locals even know about (even in vocabulary, there is the same word for milk products as for vegetarian food, literally “white food”) but it surprisingly many, I feel like it could compete with Prague and in my eyes it shows that every extreme or force creates a counter force or movement.

The language is so interesting! It’s like mixture of everything. The calligraphy looks like Arabic but it is written vertically, from the top down. The sound of the spoken language hasn’t stopped to amaze me. It sounds like German, than few words like Chinese, some Italian and then suddenly a noise that scares you. One Mongolia friend read the Czech text and Czech names with no problem and even his R was perfect. I was shocked, nobody in the world can pronounce that right! Even some Czechs with our president in the lead. Mongolian has such a broad variety of sounds that all possible organs are used to utter all syllables from all languages, he explained to me. It’s like a computer Unicode, the set of all possible sounds. But it doesn’t sound like cacophony, it’s really pleasure (maybe out of the interest) to listen to, except the noise that is used to express agreement – “yes” is like to hear a person sniffle.

The speech only was I found in the Mongolia itself, for writing the Cyrillic is used nowadays. The Russians came to liberate them from Chinese after the first world war and as they do, they came with many advices and improvements, so the original old Mongolian script is preserved in school books, one newspaper, old books and expats communities (emmigrants always work as a preserver of a culture. I was told I can hear old fashioned Italian words only in the little Italy in New York).

Drinking is really popular, and karaoke is really really popular (I guess if you open a pub without a mic in UB (Ulaanbaatar is just too long, not only for locals (it means “red hero” by the way, another improvement from the Russian liberators) than the only your guests would be foreigners).
Oh, foreigners. Another example of a force and counter force? Tourists in tents I will describe later, first I learned about the foreign investment and nazis. Mongolia is very rich in natural resources. Iron, coal, silver, dinosaurs, if you start digging you will come across something valuable and other countries noticed. So they came to help. Most of the wealth is owned by Canadian companies, or Chinese or other. Mongolians themselves stayed with their tents and cattles, just few bribed politicians who sold the country to foreign lobbyists are living the high life. Earlier this year, only big demonstrations made the government rethink selling another share of the national coal mining industry to the Canadian private company that would have 98% control over the Mongolian coal. I think they made it 50% in the end I’m not sure, but it’s a sweet deal anyway, and not the only one. Sometimes the operation is being done as a development aid. Sure, if money infects the character than it’s better to ship all the wealth away so the natives can stick to their culture and way of life. “Ta ikh tus bolloo” is ‘thanks for helping’ in Mongolian.

The danger of not robbing the natives can be seen in another example. On the way there I was meeting happy tourists in an outdoor jackets in the opposite direction to China (with two goretex jackets on the way to Tibet). They were telling me not to miss the true experience of a Mongolian traditional ger (that’s how the round tent, the yurt is called). But I was not really willing to pay 50$ per day for a trip to the steppe on a jeep and then sleeping in the tent. Later when I was in UB, one guy was telling me how this is tearing apart the souls of the people and how he can see it on his own village in the countryside. Hospitality has been part of the culture as in all Asia but here in the hard environment it was a question of survival and thus letting a stranger into your tent was seen a granted thing you should not be thankful for. It might be rude. But now, all the freaking adventurous westerners are jumping on the trans-siberian train with their jackets and dollars to see the great wall of china and as Mongolia is on the way, why not get out and make one more folder of photos. So these days, knocking on the tent costs around 30€ per night (and you actually pay in euro notes) and the people in the natural parks have two gers for them and their family and six more for Dutch tourists. We tourists hate tourists. It’s just business as usual in the end, nothing unordinary, it’s just I remember the look of the eyes of my friend and his serious concern that those people are not able to move with the animals, nor stay with broader family or friends (who would take the place without paying) and the money made can’t be spent on anything anyway, just better accommodation for the coming tourists and vodka and the people are more and more getting lost.

The government was holding a meeting in the desert at the time I was there to point out how serious the situation is with the Gobi swallowing one mile after another. The desert is advancing in China as well, Beijing is afraid to be in the desert in some years so they are planting tree barrier, green wall of china. The Mongolia is said to be one of the countries most painfully hit by the climate change. The rainfall and seasons change is really important for a country where the sky is the only thing you have besides the dry soil and your moving house and cows.

And then the nazis. When I was buying a watermelon from a Mongolian man in China I told him I’m going to his country and he told me “Watch out, there is a lot of nazis these days”. What the *ck? Yes. There are boys and men all around, you can notice, wearing tattoos with swastikas, freaking hackenkreuz. It’s not just an ordinary symbol and decoration as I got used to in Nepal and India, they are actually hailing and talking about Adolf. What is this guy doing here, I asked. One man told me (I was asking carefully) that they are not that crazy and not that bad. He got my attention. As he said, they are just protecting the country from evil foreigners. He got my attention. He said they act when Koreans are trafficing their women (gorgeous!) or Chinese smuggling and dealing drugs when the police is inactive, otherwise the are cool and calm. Well, I didn’t feel good about it. I actually had a “dialogue” with such a young guy. He wasn’t speaking English, I understood just “Mongolia” and his rings but we managed to part with saying goodbyes and gestures of respect.

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Then I left the city and went to that tent in the beautiful mountains and forests. I said I have money for one night only but can help working in exchange of shelter for the following days. It was amazing, just horses running over plains and clouds over the sky. I was walking through wonderful wood, crossing the rivers with shoes in my hand as I had no horse or jeep, hiking in one of the healthiest landscape I’ve seen and walking back to my ger barefoot. And after one day of working I got sick. I eat really funny carrot. It was too funny so I had to spay my days with a stomachache and nights with stove and candles writing letters that were good for the fire only. After that a horse took my across the rivers and I returned to UB to pick up my visa and jump on a train to Russia. Arriving to the city from distance felt like coming to a music festival tent village, low line of tents and houses rises high only in the very center.
I was late and running to the train station. Of course. Goodbye Mongolia. The friend told me there is an archery championship in Hungary and he might come in Mongolian colors. I believe he will make it and bring me a piece of that land in the future.

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I was sailing! For reals. Roars, russian commands, sails, wind. Incredible experience, so enjoyable, so physical and emotional; changing decks, making knots, working with the wind, now it’s the time, one has to learn fast, first time, but it feels natural and right, like making love. Amazing experience, I was speechless back on the soil, carrying the mass back to the warehouse. And now, I even have pictures of the boat right on the same day!

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The lake is asking for weeks to be spent around it, the authorities are asking me to leave right away and catch another train. No time to stay, no time to stay. There is something terribly wrong about it. I think they know it themselves but ten days visa is ten days visa. Like if the lady at train station counter heard my inner sad discontent, she leaned and whispered conspiratively “the departure is in Moscow time”. What? That gives me five more hours? And half an hour later i’m sitting in marschutka looking at birch trees in autumn colors, laughing at the policemen standing everywhere, playing with their buttons next to the old school car, expecting the lake. wood carving.

Even the most attentive and present minded ones lose sense of time on the transsiberian railway ride. The time on your phone is wrong, confused with the time of the present station, the place you came from or Moscow. Everybody is confused, then let free to give up so the days can finally blend with nights and the attendant is smiling contentedly.
86 hours in the comedy class, figures of the Russian nation are stopping by my bed, showing themselves en face like a model, like a saint in the Old Town square horologe, while evading, maing space for some one else passing on the way through the corridor to the toilet. Passengers at the seats around are changing. Throughout the days. Just the birches are still there, behind the window. A lady with a food cart is slowly passing by now and then, softly speaking to herself saying the names of the things she sees in front of her on the cart, it’s really like if she was speaking to herself pushing her barrow through the world. I imagine this character somewhere else, on the square. I’m writing letters, trying to read, trying to sleep, but I’m not bored or restless. I’m resting.

I was walking through Moscow since 4am. After parties, early workers, last or first drinks, dawn at the red square. Few hours are enough already and I want to move on to the city more beautiful, but I cannot, I need to stay, walk or sit. The only place I found nice was random little park with a pond in the middle, mirroring the surrounding houses, sky, trees. Better than the Puschkin museum, into this impressionist painting I actually want to walk in. I’m afraid I would end with my shoes and trousers wet though.
The thoughts and emotions are terribly confusing in its weight. I can’t focus to solve it out, it all accumulated and is lying on me now, nailing me down to the ground. I’m sitting there on a bench, giving it a chance and patiently trying to process it and wait what emerges, what lesson or solution, from this state of solitude and confusion. But I can’t look back, there is too much behind me, can’t look forward for making expectations is dangerous. I remain trapped. In my imagination I arrived home thousand times already, hugging the beloved ones in thousand ways at all possible places around our house, around my city, that I feel the actual meeting will be ‘normal’ as all these dramatic reunions were experienced already, though in my mind only. Suddenly there is a jazz band playing. Oh gosh, how they saved me and made my day. Looking for distraction I’m looking for pink and silver blankets, there is this demo in Berlin and I’m making myself ready. But there is no pink in Moscow! Wrong city.

I was walking through Sankt Petersburg since 5am. Early workers, late outers. A cake with gin and tonic for a breakfast, opening the metro first ride smiling.
Building a base. Getting one. Later the Hermitage there is this one picture, German 18th century landscape “A morning in the mountains”, a guy is sitting atop a hill looking at the hillsides around and below, overlooking the clouds watching the sun to rise. How can he return to his village? I came down from a mountain and see the valley where I reside differentelly for I have seen the things, the clouds from above and the sun on the horizon. This is untransfarable and remains in quiet. That’s it.

Sigur Ros

Woke up today after long tiring nothing solving discussions. Is there a hope or not? And what about back-to-the-earth today? Am I getting a camera? Is the invitation for an evening sailing in the bay real? I’m looking forward to find out. And I’m looking forward for the hitchhiking home. To Europe.

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There’s demo these days,
my own body is on strike,
spirit and mind crying for rest,
legs call an end to a hike,

And I’m not opposing,
agree with the list of demands,
far too long feet are moving,
now give peace a chance,

My brain’s asking some music,
my arms need to hug,
back muscles one hard brick,
organs eaten by a bug,

And I’m not opposing,
accepting the list of demands,

Mind for nest, ass that
heart for love, warmth of stove,
days at home,

And I’m not opposing,
give peace a chance.

Let’s keep it guys together,
hold on, keep spirits high,
we gotta go a bit further –
till the day I die!

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eco fundamentalists

Do you remember as I was ill in India and wrote that piece of weird future vision in fevers? Situation repeated in Mongolian ger, having a temperature after talking about the world agriculture.

“You know, I quite like our place, I just imagined it more anarchist earlier, self-governed, decentralized community.”
“We all did. Now marsh you go to make it on time!” The wife had no mood for such talks right now.

One section of the shelf in the shop was all white empty except for one red plastic bottle of ketchup. He took it.
He was given a suspicious look at the counter but tried to look nonchalant as he was handing over his card.
“You might need to go with us to the office, sir.”
“Why, what’s wrong?”
“Please, not here, not in front of the people. Follow me.”

There was a policeman sitting. “Why did you buy a plastic bottle, sir?”
“I haven’t seen those for quite a while… I thought,… maybe they calculated that handling all the glass bottles is actually less ecological than reusing the plastic. I don’t know. It was there, I bought it. Is that a problem?”
“We have to watch out for any attempt of a subversive act to undermine our five-year sustainable plan, don’t we? Now, please tell us. Why are you using other person’s card for emission credits? Have you bought so much plastic things you need to use someone else’s credit?”
“No, it’s my brother’s, the shopping is for him. We share a household, as far as I know, it is perfectly legal, isn’t it?”
“It would if your brother wasn’t dead. You need to accompany us to the station.”

“There is more on you. Did you visit Russia two years ago?”
“And what was your claimed mean of transport?”
“A bicycle.”
“And did you really ride as you stated while asking for the permission to leave?”
“I did, but, I had a puncture on the way and I hitchhiked the last part of the road to Moscow. It was an accident.”
“Do you think that the responsibility to maintain a low carbon economy ends with the border of ESE?”
“Certainly not, but, but I hitchhiked, I thought it’s actually less polluting as the car is already on the road and I’m not consuming my energy that I would need to replenish with food…” A stress and fear was replaced by a subtle smile.
“Look. We are willing to forget about all that if you assist us with one thing. … We are monitoring one person involved in the Free Planet subversive movement, connected to the Fundamental Environmental network. Your task would be to inform us about their coming action, an attack.”

“So they sent you on me?”
“We are all on one side.”
“Yeah, but you are spreading the falsehood of the machinery of the system!”
“And you want people die. Why?”
“And what about the war? In the name of a fight against ‘overpopulated polluters’? What was that about?”
“I didn’t agree with the war.” A slight hold back. He might be on a record and not say such things.
“But what’s the difference then? You believe being vegetarian is just enough and that it still allows you to drink blood. You guys are all the same, we all are, that’s why our approach is more pure.”
“So you want to kill us all…”
“We deserve nothing else. Since the beginning, since the Garden…”
“What, the apple was not organic?”
“You laugh, but you know there is no other solution.”

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Where are all the posts?

Where is the post about sculptures in the park in Xian? And the one describing how beautifully all the pieces of the picture got together when I learned about the monk Xuan Zang, of whom I have heard in Tibet as the one who brought and translated Buddhist scripts from India, whose pagoda where the scripts had been stored I saw in Shaanxi and whose story inspired the legend The Journey to the West which then inspired the tv show Monkey King that I loved as a kid; where is that post? Or the other one, describing the culture clash, or a mash rather, in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, the weird feeling of the city as the unsolvable puzzle? Oh, and where’s that text about “How I love the life and the beautiful wolrd” that I promised myself to write after my mother wrote me that my blog and poems are too dark? Balance, you know. And then an overview should have come – How is China. Then some rascal description how wild was crossing the border to Mongolia. Where is it? Impressions from Ulaanbaatar, cacophony of the language, lights and pukes; why were they not written? And a description of the Mongolian men who remain true to the blood of ancestors and after a 9-5 job go off the city to practice horseback archery – I’m lacking that too! Also some explanation of the present state, that I’m still three-weeks-away from home (since August) but want already to write horrible sentences like “I’ve crossed two deserts, rivers Eufrat, Tigris, Ganga and the Yellow river, I have traversed Himalayas…” or “I’ve seen much and the color of my eyes changed twice” or how I see life more clearly now. And then maybe some taoist quote such as “The great Way is nearby, who seeks it afar returns afterward to find it in oneself” followed by my “What?? Couldn’t have someone told me that earlier?? No, we just have to go.”

Yeah, I could have written all that. But I didn’t. Every day is bringing new events and there is no computer in a Mongolian tent. I’ll tell you later, guys, don’t worry. Meet me for a beer! Or am I really going to write a book?

Anyway, I gotta go now to collect my Russian visa and catch my train later. To the Bajkal! And long long ride home in a hostel on wheels.

And if my train falls of the track,
pick it up, pick it up, pick it up!

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