ThE Power Of Having no Money
Written by George Balarezo, Intrepid Global Citizen
I crossed the bridge from psychological distress to immediate relief. Finally the long awaited Xinjiang village was just around the corner. I wolfed down my plate of home cooked ‘lakhman’ and feasted on the complimentary fire stove baked bread like a starving beast. The sensation of food hitting my palate and becoming a part of me was nothing short of ecstasy. Tour cycling trips often brings you to the extreme of your human limits. The empty space in my stomach had reached its pinnacle and I was finally replenishing my life force. People often ask about favorite foods when getting to know each other. My favorite meal up until that point was Korean fermented bean paste soup. Now I would respond to that question much differently. Anything remotely edible upon reaching that point of desperation would become my new answer.
My next plan was to pitch my tent on any piece of greenery out of harm’s way. My stomach was full and the only thing left to do was lay down and close my eyes. A police officer ran over to me quickly and foiled my grand scheme. I was able to communicate with him used my minute Russian skills since he spent some time in Kyrgyzstan. Flashbacks of the adventures along the Pamir Highway two years prior infiltrated my brain and my survival Russian somehow flowed from the depths of my vocal chords. I was elated to take a break from speaking Chinese for a few moments and revive my Russian vocabulary. Using the words car, tent, hotel, bicycle, yes, no and nonverbal contextual cues I was able to decode the police officer’s puzzling speech. Essentially I was not allowed ride my bicycle within an 80 kilometer radius of the village and would be driven to another town immediately where I would have to stay in a hotel. I was quickly learning the travel ropes of rural Xinjiang. The most important rule being obey the police at all times. Once I heard the news I was excited just to ride in a car for an hour and get some shut eye. At least I would soon be able to get off my bike and enjoy the orange and purple contrasts of the setting sun. Although my first choice of accommodation is anywhere in the fresh mountain air I would have to settle for a roof over my head that night. Flexibility is the name of the game when it comes to adventure travel and mine was about to be put to the test over the next few hours.
In a Chinese Dungeon
Upon arrival at the town I had to register at the police station. No one there knew what to do with me and I was waiting around for several hours. My broken Chinese was put to the test as I attempted to communicate my request to sleep anywhere on the police station floor in a dark place. The walky talkies kept blaring in Chinese and I was the subject of everyone’s conversation. The only thing I could make out was the word “American” and realized I had created a large stir among the law enforcement officers. Cigarette smoke filled the police chief’s windowless office as everyone puffed away on the lung cancer sticks. There I was in a Chinese dungeon being forced to inhale secondhand smoke which now resembled grey London fog. I kept my patience in tact by some divine intervention as cigarette smoke filled my lungs. I quickly overturned the negative self talk into gratitude after reflection on the day’s events. Nevertheless, I was thankful to be alive after nearly being swept away by Xinjiang’s mighty currents.
One of the police officers humored me by asking if I had any American cigarettes. Through the translation device on his smart phone he described how his intense desire was to smoke Marlboro cigarettes based on their top of the line reputation. “Sweet, bitter yet a strong mocha flavor,” radiated the computerized voice on his smart phone. He described in detail exactly how he imagined it to be to take a puff of a cigarette with such a high reputation. The expression on his face was worth a thousand words. I will spare you the rest of the details. He then took selfies of the two of us for at least fifteen minutes, which ended up being good entertainment to pass the time.
The Power of Having No Money
Two hours later I was released from the police station and escorted to the hotel. Apparently there was only one hotel in town that would except Non Chinese citizens and it was a luxurious four star structure. This little dilemma did absolutely nothing to phase me as I would never in my wildest dreams pay for such unnecessary extravagance. After my near death experience that morning the situation seemed to be so trivial and rather humorous. I was laughing hysterically on the inside like a hyena at such an absurd idea as paying that much for a room. I was tired enough to sleep on the hotel courtyard’s concrete floor and was ready to propose the idea without hesitation. “250 dollars per night for the cheapest room,” the electronic voice delivered the translation through the worker’s hand held computer. Now my laughter bellowed from the depths of my navel and echoed through the hotel lobby. That was the exact sum of money I had spent over the course of a month on the road in rural Xinjiang. How ironic! At that moment I was the one without the money, yet I still had the negotiation power since there was no other place for me to go in town. The police officers left several moments prior to my interaction with the hotel clerk and gave me a stern warning not go outside in the dark. Just like every other encounter with the Xinjiang police, I was given directions without any explanation. It was now one thirty in the morning and I had been awake for a punishing twenty two hours straight. My eyes were now drooping from fatigue and my patience was running thin. “Two dollars,” I said while pointing to the sofa in the hotel lobby while signaling that I expected to be able to use a bathroom to at least wash my face and brush my teeth. The hotel clerk nodded in defeat. I had reached a deal that would have made Warren Buffet proud. Yet another victory for the global citizen.
My basic survival costs came down to only food on this trip. As long as this basic need was met I was more than content. Even if I had been robbed or lost my cash for some reason, I am sure I would have been absolutely fine. I had gone several days in a row without even spending one dollar up until that point. Everywhere in Xinjiang, people were shoving food in my face and leaving me with edible items as welcoming gifts. Living off the charity of others is indeed a humbling experience and I felt a deep sense of freedom not worrying about money. Unfortunately, money becomes the default master to many people in society and they become depressed as a result. Survival is so simple, yet many people make it seem so complicated. We are the most comfortable generation that has ever walked the earth, yet our sense of inner peace has been chewed apart by the sharp teeth of hyper materialism. Our societies have developed with extreme rapidity as we now have machines and gadgets to do most of our work for us. However, we do not yet know how to cope with our newfound comfort and free time. Perhaps it is time for us to work the land once again and plant some vegetable and fruit trees in our green spaces. At least this would provide us with untouched, trustworthy food to nourish ourselves while getting some exercise and sunlight in the process. It is time to put down the smart phone and pick up the shovel. Your sense of inner peace depends on it.
At this point I was living the way humanity has for thousands of years, focused only on survival. I felt such immense freedom to be in my natural state, the way nature intended it to be.