In the summer of 2006, I found myself walking down a country road outside a small mountain village in northern China with a huge backpack on my shoulders, little money in my pockets and absolutely no idea where I was going.
I was in China for a few weeks by the time I found myself in this village. , My trip started in Beijing, the capital, and I worked my way down south on a rather loosely defined course.In those first few weeks I had experienced more than I had in years. They say going into the military turns you into an adult, but in my case it only turned me into a desperate robot. It took me a while to trust my instincts after my service. My army experience completely solidified my hatred of doing what was expected; the shoulds and oughts and musts. That’s probably why I had to wait before I could allow myself this traditional escape. You see, in my mid 20’s, it was a little late for the customary grand holiday that most Israelis embark on immediately after they finish their military service, but I always tend to be a little slower than others at reaching standard life accomplishments.
Traveling through China was unlike anything I’ve experienced before, and nothing could have prepared me for those four months in a country that I did not speak any of the local languages. Further, my trip was filled with people who openly gaped at my funny and foreign looking appearance. It was also a culture shock that their were no doors or toilets in their restrooms and hot running water was a rare luxury.
I had reached the isolated village of Langmusi two days earlier, after I found a recommendation for the village in my Lonely Planet guidebook. It was truly worth the stop. This village did not have any of the modern living standards I was used to and the eerie silence afforded the village a deep serenity. The views were of luscious green mountains as far as the eye could see and the sound was of a bubbling brook that crossed the tiny town. However, I was quickly running out of money and there was no bank in the village for me to exchange my travelers’ checks, so it was time to move passed this village.
I decided to take fate into my own hands after two dreadful days of waking up at the crack of dawn, as the guidebook suggested. You see the guidebook suggested to catch an imaginary bus from a nonexistent bus stop (maybe those two things were actually real, but being the only tourist and English speaking person in the village, that’s the conclusion I ended up with).There was no guarantee that a bus will ever show up and given my lack of funds I could no longer afford the rare taxis that rolled into town, so the only option left to me was to grab my 13 kilo backpack and hike into the unknown, hoping that things will, somehow, work out.
At first, the stretching meadows and rustic farms were enchanting. Such wilderness is rarely apparent where I come from. But after a few hours of walking, with not a single car in sight, I began to worry. I was in the middle of nowhere, in a vast and foreign country, going who knows where. Quickly doubts and desperation began worrying me. What if a car never comes by? Where will I spend the night? What will I eat?
About a half an hour later the road suddenly ended at a huge intersection. It was surreal, an endless highway in every direction and not a single car on it. The sun was starting to grow dimmer, there would not be light for very much longer. It was then that I completely broke down.
I could see no way off this road, not that day, maybe not ever. I started crying. I was lost and scared. Through my growing hysteria I tried to listen to some reason. “It’s ok to freak out” I said to myself “Take 15 minutes to cry and break down and then pull yourself together and figure this out,” and that is exactly what I did.
After 15 minutes I dried my eyes, took a deep breath, reached into my backpack for a granola bar and the book my brother bought me for the trip On the Road, by Jack Kerouac. I had just reached the part where he says life is like a book: if you can’t see how to solve your problems that’s because you’re stuck at an early chapter, but by the end of the book everything will have already worked itself out.
I knew this wasn’t the end of my book, it was just a chapter. You either give up or you keep going, and I was not about to die here on this godforsaken road. I looked up from the book just in time to see the big bus that stopped at my feet, the driver gesturing for me to hop in. It was time for the next chapter.