Digital detox on a train through Hunan
I watch as the screen crumbles. Flickering shapes. At First, it seemed still partly usable. But as soon as I touched the screen, it spread, covering the display in a flashing mess of noise and random patterns. I sigh. I am sitting in the canteen of a campsite hidden away in the Western part of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park as Disaster unfolds. I planned to do some work.
Zhangjiajie is China’s first and its most famous National Park, UNESCO world heritage. Crowded with tourists. Normally. That’s what I expected. To my amazement, I found myself the sole guest on this campsite. On the verge of Chinese national holidays! I rented a tree-suspended tent here, mats, sleeping bag, tent already pitched — all inclusive.
The weather is moist, drizzling rain, clouds of fog. Sooner or later, towards the weekend, it fills up. Few more campers arrive, tents already pitched for them. The concept of enduring discomfort of camping in the dirt and rain is something alien to most Chinese however, so the campers move inside, snuggling up in cozy indoor-tents! I still enjoy the comfort and solitude of my flying tent in the wild. I don’t mind the drops, I appreciate the cool breeze.
I spend days strolling through the vast area of the park, through forests and gorges, up and down on staircases and cobblestone trails. Between towering quartz-sandstone pillars, overlooking the karst-like landscapes, the distinct and unique features of the park. Just follow the rule: The more you have to hike, the fewer tourists you meet.
It was an adventure to find this campsite, it wasn’t on my map. I just had an online booking. Nobody speaks English, and my Chinese is limited to a few necessary words and numbers. Conversations go through a translation app. You talk to your phone, the phone speaks with your vis-á-vis. It works. Sometimes. Technology will save us.
But Technology just had let me down. Back in Zhangjiajie — the town — I am about to embark on a very long train ride as I notice I lost my e-book reader. My phone is running out of credit, losing China’s ubiquitous 4G network. At Shenzhen, I will fix it. But what to do now without a laptop, no e-book, no phone, no signal, not even a book, I ask myself — and Facebook.Trying to find a local connection? Improve my Chinese?
I enter the compartment: My mate does not even look up from her phone.“Buy a notebook, a good pen and write down your travel stories,” a friend had advised me, “I would read it.” I open a can of beer and start writing.
Originally published at BackFace.