The Egyptian embassy in the Netherlands does not have a website. I’m not sure if they ever had one, but the one linked on Google leads to nothing. With no information and no reply to my emails, I did what I always do: I just winged it.
A lot of people. I’m guessing around 20. Mostly male. Only travel agency representatives and Egyptians. The main consular service guy who kept walking towards the fence didn’t speak English (nor Dutch). I waited for 1.5 hours, not being assertive, just assuming that I had to wait my turn, while people pushed in front of me. I clearly still have too much Canada in me; haven’t made the cultural switch yet. Finally, after nearly two hours, a lady comes out. I elbow three men out of the way, and tell her I need to notarize two documents. She takes them inside, then tells me to wait. She doesn’t tell me for how long. So I wait. I wait another hour. The same man comes out 10 more times (let’s call him fence man), with the people on the other side of the fence talking and waving documents in front of him, while using very elaborate hand gestures. A mild fight ensues. Everyone is frustrated. The waiting took a long time and it started to rain. Some guy wrecks the bulletin board off of the fence and murmurs the same thing over and over again while ringing the bell a million times. I have no idea what’s going on. Then I look at the one lady to my left. She had also been waiting for quite some time. I ask her politely if there’s any chance the fence man said something about documents or pick-up. She says: “not yet, but just ask him. I will translate.” Fence man tells me to wait just a little longer. The lady turns to me and says:
“You’re not Egyptian?”
“Half. I’m half Egyptian”
“Half. and half Dutch?”
“You need to get your Egyptian half to come out and fight for your documents, or you will never get them! Be more assertive!”
I laugh nervously, while looking at the row of men holding on to the fence. “Thank you, I’ll do my best” I say.
“Good luck my dear” she says.
Fence man hands over the documents. I say thank you in Arabic, then walk away. I look back one more time and see everyone staring in my direction.
Don’t know if that’s a taste of what’s to come, but what I do know is that women are better than men.
I passed by a heavily meowing car on my way back from a birthday party.
I went back and got on my knees to check underneath the car, inside the wheels, put my ear near the hood, tapped on the windows. The meowing got worse and I was super worried. It looked like this cat really needed help.
It sparked some attention. Within 5 minutes there were three other people looking for the meow. “It’s stuck in the engine”, a man said. “Can we get it out?” I asked. “You need to call the police.”
I tried the animal rescue service first, but their 24hour service apparently didn’t count anymore after 11. Then I had someone else call the police: “Yeah hi, we’re looking for the owner of this license plate (… )..yeah there’s a cat stuck underneath the hood. No I’m not joking. Ok thanks.”
“They’ll call you back when they find the owner and the police will come crack open the hood”
“Crack it open?! Can’t the owner just .. open it?”
“They’ll call you back.”
After that he walked off!! The other men also left in the meantime. Thanks for all the help buddies….
Then the meowing disappeared… I was afraid something may have happened, so I started tapping on the car again. Suddenly there was a faint meow in the distance, like at the other side of the street; THE SAME MEOW!
At the same time the police called back; wanted to know the street name and said they’ll be right over.
THEN the man who helped me call the police came back..He had woken up his wife for this event and wanted her to help look as well!!
And then.. a sneaky little bastard asshole cat crossed the street….
We all looked at each other in silence. “You uh..better call the police and say you’ve found the cat…” I did. I could hear the police was very pleased with this news by the swearing in the background.
I got lost in the Beijing suburbs/construction area for a good 2.5 hours and was brought home by a complete stranger
So, Beijing is this massive city with too many people. In my district alone, it takes like a few hours by bicycle to get from north to south. Bicycle you say? Yes; because there are so many people, you’d basically be stuck in traffic 24/7. I live 10 or so km from work and it takes me over 2 hours to get there if I take the bus.
What do you do when there’s no subway station near your house? You get a bicycle. So today, I went to the gym after work on my brand new free bike (thank you work). The gym however, is 10 km extra in the opposite direction of where I live, meaning it would take 1.5 hours to get back home. But make that 2, because Beijing traffic is insane.
I used this app that replaces Google maps in China which worked great the first 5 km to the gym. However, it’s not always as accurate as you want it to be and of course, it kills your battery. My battery was half empty already before taking off because I was too busy taking pictures of myself in the gym (… yes).
The first 30 minutes or so went great. Then it got really dark. Then at some point the app sent me on the highway with 1% battery left, which is when I realized I looked up the route by car (also stupid). I went on my own little adventure and just kept going straight hoping there’d be a crossroad or something where I could turn right. The app literally said I just needed to turn right somewhere and then It’d just be straight ahead for another 9 km.
I turned right into a smaller street. Then suddenly I realized the fact that I could still see the road was because there were other cars driving back and forth. When the last car passed by it was pitch black. Then of course my phone died. So there was no light, utter darkness, and I didn’t know where I was. Slight panicky moment here. No crying, but a little shaky. Started talking to myself mostly to reassure myself that everything was going to be absolutely fine.
Instead of going back, like any normal person would do, I just kept going into the darkness hoping I’d end up somewhere familiar. No houses either, just construction site (where some light came from, occasionally) and slums. Then a taxi drove by. I waved at it like a crazy person. “Your bike is too big,” the driver said while driving off. ”I’ll leave it on the side of the road!!” I yelled. That didn’t help.
Then some strange man (with a car) resting on the hood sort of appeared out of nowhere. “Where are you heading?”
“I’m lost, I need to go to the art district.” I said. “No worries, I’ll take you there.”
See, this sounds ideal right? He seemed genuine, helping out a lost foreigner. But I just.. couldn’t. I was too scared. “Never get into a car with a stranger.” So I walked off. ”Hey! The art district is in the other direction! Hey! Come back!! You’re going the wrong way!” I said sorry a couple of times. I guess I did feel guilty.
Then a car stopped. I ran towards it. “Could you maybe please call a taxi? I’m lost and my phone ran out of battery.” The driver didn’t have time to help, but pointed at a store I completely missed (store as in like.. this.. vendor-thing built into the construction site wall).
3 men were standing outside, then this conversation happened:
” = me
– = sales person
$ = another dude
% = another dude
“Could you please help me call a taxi?”
– For what?
– Where do you need to go?
“The art district”
-Oh that’s easy, I’ll show you the way
“No don’t show me the way, I just arrived in Beijing, I know absolutely nothing and my phone has no battery. Please call a taxi”
– Hahahah no more battery. You foreigner. You need to buy a power bank.
% They’ll never take your bike with you
“That’s fine, I’ll leave it here”
-Here? Better put if over there then
“Whatever, call me a taxi, please”
% Why don’t you take her?!
– I can’t
% Where did you come from just now?
” Far away
% (said something I didn’t understand)
” I’m sorry I didn’t understand that”
– She doesn’t speak Chinese
$. She speaks Chinese just fine
“Can you call me a taxi or not?”
– See, the problem is, it costs money
“I have money, I’ll give you money, I’ll give the driver money, I don’t want to bike, I want a taxi”
– Let’s see (looks at phone).. don’t know the number, what’s the number?
% I don’t have a number
$. I don’t have a phone
– Seriously, I’ll show you the way
“No really, I don’t want to bike, it’s too dark, I can’t see anything
– It’s dark everywhere. Why did you decide to bike?
“I’ve been biking for hours, because, you know, I GOT LOST”
% Where do you work?
“The Sanlitun area”
– That’s extremely far from here
“I know, I just said I needed to go to the art district”
-That’s not very far from here
“YES, I KNOW”
% Have you been biking before?
“This is my second time biking in Beijing”
– HAHAHA foreigner getting lost in Beijing.. (stops laughing and puts on a serious face).. then again I would also get lost in a foreign country. I get it.
% There are some cars that have room for a bike, that’s a better option
“YES, yes, call them.
– I don’t have a number, do you have a number?
% *checks phone* No, no number
$ Just take her there!
% Yeah, take her! We can use some rope for the bike.
The lady on the right, Guljekrem, invited us over for tea one day while we were just resting on the side of the road.
We came back a second time to thank her. That’s where I learned Guljekrem’s story.
She once had a husband and several children; all dead. She’s suffering from severe rheumatism and nearsightedness, and yet she still invited us over for dinner and walked across the street in pain to get us gifts. I added her on WeChat where she said it was such a blessing to have us over and how much she loved us. I couldn’t grasp how she was not a bitter, lifeless person filled with anger after having gone through so much.
We nearly died, I was sexually harassed and I peed on myself, sort of
The Karokoram highway is the road that leads from the city of Kashgar to Pakistan. It’s built in the middle of insane mountains, grasslands and rivers. Because it’s so far west, it borders or is located close to Kyrgistan, Tajikistan and obviously Pakistan, and many of China’s “minorities” live along the highway.
The highway is known to be one of the most dangerous roads in the world. Crossing it takes about 6-8 hours, depending on the vehicle, weather and time. It’s called the Karokoram highway, but actually it’s just small road. About 50 percent of the road is flat and relatively drivable. The rest of the road consists of gravel, holes and mud, making it pretty challenging and dangerous to cross, as the road is extremely steep, mostly unprotected and mudslides or rocks falling from the mountains are not uncommon.
Me and my friend planned a safe-ish trip along the highway by bus. Buses go once a day from the Kashgar busstation and many adventurous travelers took this option. It was the most magnificent thing I’ve ever seen. The mountains changed color over time or turned into sand dunes, the rivers became a translucent light blue. There were many different tents, yurts and stone or clay houses along the way, along with all kinds of different people. Amazing.
The drive indeed was a little scary…alright it was very scary. We were basically catapulted in and out of our seats every minute. To avoid big holes the bus kept going from left to right and sometimes it got stuck on steep areas. But the driver seemed to know what he was doing and there were other cars going back and forth, plus the view was absolutely worth it.
We arrived at Karagul lake, a majestic lake next to the road, where we spent a night in a yurt among Kyrgyz people. The next morning we were supposed to go to Taxkorgan, but we wanted to enjoy our time near the lake for a while, so we hitchhiked our way there. Luckily we didn’t have to wait long, as a minivan with some other travelers stopped and took us there for basically next to nothing.
So far so good, right?
Taxkorgan was an interesting place as it was home to many Tajik people, and there were a lot of nomads in the distance on the grasslands surrounding the place. Good Pakistani food too. All was well.
We planned to go back to Kashgar and from there take a night train back to Urumqi to rest a few days (we had to go back to Kashgar because we rented mountain bikes there…which we didn’t use.. a whole different story..). The hostel told us there were minivan taxis going to Kashgar in the afternoon, so we wouldn’t have to leave early to catch the bus. Taxkorgan was another 100km further down, meaning the drive back would take 8-10+ hours.
This is where shit hit the fan.
Upon arriving at the taxi location, there was indeed a comfortable minivan. I put my backpack in the back, took a seat and ate something, while my friend waited outside for a bit. We had to wait for a 4th passenger (the van wouldn’t leave with less than 4 people). There were many different people surrounding the van, mostly Uyghur, discussing whatever in their native tongue. We had to show our passports to inspection at some point and as I got out, all of a sudden I saw a man grabbing my bag from the back of the van and throwing it in the trunk of a tiny old taxi. In Dutch I sort of indirectly spoke to the man and said: “what is going on, what are you doing with my bag.” I turned to my friend and told her I had a bad feeling about this and I asked her if maybe we could find another way to go to Kashgar. She didn’t really respond to my panicking and kept quiet, but I could feel her thinking the same thing.
After inspection we headed back to the taxi site and found we indeed had to take the car that was about to fall apart. As I got in the car I kept saying: “I don’t want this, this doesn’t feel right, I don’t like this at all…”
For the first hour I sat miserably in the middle of the backseat. I was upset that I didn’t just push through and found a different way to travel. I was also scared of the car, which was definitely not meant to drive on that unsafe road. My friend and an Uyghur man sitting next to me fell asleep as I continued panicking. Then I noticed the driver kept changing his seating position, while rubbing his eyes every now and then. Sometimes he drove straight into vehicles coming from the other direction and quickly dashed just before crashing into one. My eyes were wide open at that point and I pretty much stopped blinking with full focus on the driver; my friend was still asleep. I tried to calm down, telling myself that he was an experienced driver and everything was going to be fine. Then I saw him dozing off..several times. Sometimes he let go of the wheel, suddenly woke up, which startled him, after which he moved the car in all kinds of different directions trying to get control over the car again. This woke my friend up as well.
“The driver keeps falling asleep,” I told her. We feared for our lives as in the next 20 minutes or so we could’ve died 20 times. The driver was clearly tired and we still had like 8 hours to go. We discussed getting out and hitchhiking our way to Kashgar. When the driver took a small break on the side of the road to pee, I convinced my friend (who was also dying of fear) to get out and leave. We did. The driver and the other passengers tried to talk us out of it, but after 10 minutes they gave up and drove off.
I was relieved and still pretty positive. It wasn’t going to get dark for the next 4 hours or so; there was plenty of time to find a suitable ride. There was also a police station not far ahead, a few small villages about a 2-hour walk away and we could always go back to the lake (also maybe 2,3 hours) and stay the night there. There were options.
After 15 minutes or so we decided to change our flip-flops to hiking shoes, since we figured this could take a while. Then a truck stopped. The driver didn’t speak Chinese, but he was heading for the Karagul lake. We were excited. My friend threw my backpack and her belongings in the truck while I quickly tried to gather my things.
Then the taxi came back.
Both passengers got out and started yelling at me to get back into the car. I looked at my friend in despair while trying to gather my stuff and listening to the two men yelling. Another truck stopped behind the one we were supposed to get in, honking to the other truck to get a move on. I covered my ears and started screaming: ” I can’t deal with this right now!!” From the truck my friend yelled to the two men that under no circumstances were we getting back in that car. At the same time she realized we dragged the poor truck driver into it..so she got out. While I was still trying to breathe, she kept telling the two men “no” while they continued arguing.
The driver and other passengers said there was a passport check along the way and they needed to take us there first; after that we were allowed to go wherever. We convinced them we were able to walk there. They drove off and waited at the police station. I slowly came to my senses, put on my hiking shoes and we walked our way there.
Upon arriving I told my friend: “you tell them whatever, I’ll take a picture of the license plate.” We found both passengers and the driver speaking to a policeman. Turns out it wasn’t a passport check, it was just a way for us to speak to the police. “It’s too unsafe, the driver can’t keep his focus for this long” me and my friend said. The policeman tried to reassure us everything was going to be fine: “This man is responsible for your safety,” he said as he pointed at the logo on the taxi, which was probably like an official taxi company or something. “We’re really not getting in again” my friend kept repeating. I turned to her and said: “how about we let him drive us to the lake and get out there, it’s not long and the driver seems pretty awake now.” The driver had a nervous smile on his face, being accused of sleep-driving at the police and all. After a few minutes we decided to get back in the car. The police made the driver promise to focus, drive slow, rest and for the other passengers to pay attention as well.
Seeing as how we threw a massive tantrum, the driver was indeed wide awake and drove safer than any other driver we had come across, meaning still unsafe, but reasonably ok, aka: we “nearly crashed” less than we would have if the police wasn’t involved…
We saw the lake pass by, then we passed all of the villages, then the main flat road ended, and darkness came sooner than expected. I was sweating like crazy. I don’t think I’ve ever been that scared before. We were driving on a dangerous road, downhill, crazy steep, unprotected, no light..One mistake and we would’ve crashed hundreds of meters into nothingness and there was plenty of wreckage along the way to prove that it wasn’t just irrational fear.
We made a stop at the actual passport inspection. The driver bought us a drink; he was clearly trying to better himself. I needed to go the bathroom, which in the middle of the mountains means squatting behind a rock. I was pretty used to squatting outside at this point, and seeing as how there were worse things happening, this was not an issue. Well..It wasn’t an issue until I accidentally dropped my pants into my own pee…completely soaked up to the knees.. I tried to fix it with tissues first. Then I stopped caring about everything, got up, pulled my pants down so that nearly everyone could see me in underwear, tied my headscarf around the front part of my waist, cardigan around the back: I looked fabulous. I tried to laugh it off, cracked some jokes. My friend was feeling sick and looked at me like: what the hell are you so happy about and “no, I’m not taking a picture..”
I got back into the car with my legs now uncovered. The Uyghur man sitting to my left thought this was a wonderful opportunity to grab my legs and ass. Since it was already dark and in the middle of the mountains there was no way to get out. I pushed his hands away and tried to tell him to stop in English (He didn’t really speak Chinese). My friend also participated in making sure his hands were visible on his own lap. At some point I put my bag in between us. He finally stopped. The rest of the trip he kept looking at me, hoping I would fall asleep. The creep.
We nearly crashed some more, we drove into a group of wild camels..but eventually, after 9 hours, we arrived in Kashgar. I think I maybe blinked once during the entire trip.
We walked back to the hostel in complete silence. Then I stopped, looked at my friend and said: “what…the..hell.”
The night train from Wuhan to Urumqi was one of the best (and absolute worst) experiences of my life. There were no seats left, so I had to buy a standing ticket for a 36 hour trip from practically east to all the way west. Locals warned me beforehand: “it’s not what you think it will be, are you really sure you want to do this?”
After entering the train, I lowered myself to the floor in frustration after finding the train completely packed like it was a Chinese New Year migration (I had already traveled for 18 hours straight with little rest and not enough food). People kept walking back and forth; some gave me stares. I got punched and pushed around as I sat there on the floor for at least an hour and I was thinking to myself:
“I’m getting off at the first stop.. I can’t do this anymore”
..But then a man noticed how much I was struggling and offered me half a seat as he stood up. “We’ll switch places when I get tired,” he said. It wasn’t just because I was foreign; as I looked around, people were giving strangers temporary seats everywhere and started talking to their neighbors and offering each other food. “We’re all having a hard time, it’ll get better once we get to Xi’an tomorrow around noon”, the man told me. The rest of that night I stood/sat on the floor and occasionally took an empty seat for 5 minutes…
Word got ’round that I spoke Chinese. “Everyone on the train is talking about you, the foreign girl with the big eyes” a passenger said. From thereon the adventure began. I ate noodles squatting on the floor, I got offered smokes, as you do, and “smoked” disgusting Chinese cigarettes on the toilet together with some factory workers from Urumqi, as we complained about the trip together. An old man from Gansu province proudly showed me pictures of his granddaughter and spoke about his travels in China throughout the years. He had been everywhere but abroad. I told him it’s never too late to travel. He laughed and said: “Young girl, I’m 87. China is big enough for me.” Later on I talked to a bunch of men about foreign cars, specifically German (the only thing they knew about Europe). And one young man majoring in English who made it clear he really wanted a foreign girlfriend, specifically Dutch, more specifically me.
None of these people ever left the country. Most of them came from the countryside or were factory workers. The first morning, the entire train came to see me. They asked questions about literally everything ‘foreign’. Because obviously I knew everything about every country. At some point they wanted me to show them what the Euro looks like, but they had also never seen money from HongKong and didn’t know anything about Taiwan (besides that it belonged to China) or what it was like to have a visa or to travel abroad in general. One guy gave me some cash from Vietnam, asked me to inspect whether or not it was real money. I was the all-knowing foreigner.
At the same time, some people were spitting on the floor and later threw their sunflower seeds into it, some were gargling into the trash can. Teenagers were sleeping on the sink or on the luggage racks. 6 chairs were occupied by 12 people sleeping on top of each other or underneath the chairs. Some kids got sick all over the floor. There were CocaCola bottles filled with pee and cigarettes hanging from the luggage racks on a string and there were mothers from the Nanchang district (apparently, I was told) screaming over everything and hitting their children for no reason; it was normal, my neighbor told me.
Up until then it was actually all bearable.
At the end of day one (19 hours in) I started feeling sick. I lived on little food or water, the windows were not allowed to open, so the only thing I breathed in was the smell of smoke and puke/urine. I took out a plastic bag and sat down on the floor near the toilet areas, preparing myself to throw up. One employee and another traveler sat together and clearly saw I was sick and dying. Then they decided to question me: where I was from, where I was going, why there, how come I speak Chinese, where I learned Chinese..all the while I sat there feeling completely miserable with a plastic bag against my face. Then as I was busy throwing up, one guy took out his phone to take a picture. “Come on, smile, I want to show a picture of the pretty Dutch girl to my friend” one of the men said… I think I kind of lost it there. I didn’t smile.
I got severe stomach cramps and a headache after throwing up. An Uyghur girl I made friends with took care of me. The cramps got really heavy around midnight, and I was unable not to make a scene. I had to stand up and grab my stomach every now and then because of the pain. If I wasn’t already interesting then, I was now. Everyone on the train just stood there and watched me, the only foreigner, for some the only foreigner they ever spoke to, and she was dying; of course you want to watch.
Then came a lot of negotiating with employees and people trying to get me to the nearest hospital, handing me random Chinese medication and like 15 people claiming to know medicine touching my stomach to see where it hurt.. they meant well, they really did. I know if was just any Chinese passenger, they probably wouldn’t have tried so hard. In the end I got what a I wanted though: a bed. Alone. I guess I couldn’t do what they do on a regular basis.. but I tried. Kept it up until 25 hours in.
I met the weirdest, sweetest, craziest, most beautiful people from all over the country and I’ve never felt more uncomfortable at the same time. Everything was so incredibly shit and yet so weirdly amazing. It was a way into a certain kind of Chinese life I would otherwise never experience.
I traveled from Hong Kong to Urumqi by bus, taxi, subway and train. It took me 3 days. It was insane. A lady came to pick me up in Urumqi and hugged me like she was my mother.