Bullied in Budapest Sun April 15

Woke up, brushed my teeth and went back to the hitchhiking spot from yesterday. It was 6:05 and the sun was up. The first car stopped, but he was going to somewhere very close so

Woke up, brushed my teeth and went back to the hitchhiking spot from yesterday. It was 6:05 and the sun was up. The first car stopped, but he was going to somewhere very close so I found it better to stay. After 121 minute and 45 cars I regretted it.

I took a walk around the area to see if any trucks were eating breakfast and waiting for hitchhikers somewhere, but there were none. Then I went back to the same spot as before and stood for another 15 minutes and 9 cars. I sent a text message to Scott in Budapest that I wouldn’t make it there till 11. I had now spent 2 hours and 21 minutes at the same hitchhiking spot. It wasn’t a bad spot, so it felt like something was wrong here. I walked back to the service area again and asked a small-truck driver if he was going to Slovakia. He was, but only to the border since trucks are forbidden on Sundays in that country. I joined him to the border.

There I showed my “Budapest” sign and after 1 minute the second car stopped. It was an orthodox priest in black clothes and a big, grey beard. I was excited, so far I had only had Swedish protestant priests. On the dashboard he had a bible. It looked funny since the mirror image of the bible’s cross in the windshield was upside down. After a mere minute’s driving into Slovakia a young man with shaved head looked like he was dancing next to the highway. My orthodox priest friend stopped and picked him up. I silently disagreed; this man wasn’t hitchhiking like a sane person. He should have stood after the border with his thumb up like me, not staying next to the highway 2 kilometers into the country dancing some kind of rain-dance. He sat in the backseat and I got worried for my luggage that I’d thrown there. You can never be sure with them hitchhikers.

It turned out that he had been on vacation with his girlfriend and that they had had an argument after drinking all night that resulted in him walking home by himself. My friendly priest drove him to some village somewhere and then he continued towards the Southern border of Slovakia. He laughed when I asked if he was a priest; he was in fact a physicist and a horse riding instructor. He let me off at the bank of the legendary Danube river and I crossed the bridge to the other side, which was Hungary. A girl on Couchsurfing.com had told me that she had been fined when hitchhiking in a Hungarian village. That’s awful; village-hitchhiking is perfectly safe and is only fined by dictatorships and other kinds of oppressive regimes. I decided to take the risk and hitchhike right after the border, in front of all the policemen, thinking that they must understand that I didn’t know it was forbidden to hitchhike in Hungary and therefore would inform me before fining me.

But the police didn’t mind at all. After 1 minute car # 5 stopped. It was two Romanian women and one man. In the front seat there was a young couple, and in the backseat the boyfriend’s little sister. The girlfriend was smoking and very talkative. She was going to start school in Romania and that’s why they went there, otherwise they all used to live in Bratislava. She gave me soda and asked if I liked her boyfriend’s little sister and wanted to marry her and I ensured her that she was very appealing but that a very special person was already waiting for me at the end of this trip.

They let me off outside Budapest where the highway to Romania takes off. At 13:55 I stood at the sunny onramp for 23 minutes and 8 cars. I walked further South till I found the next onramp and stood there for 14 minutes and 14 cars. The guy who stopped was from Cameroon and was going to central Budapest where he had been living for many years. He was happy to speak English since Hungarian made him exhausted. He liked life here a lot. He was importing electronics from Germany; business was so-so but social life was great. I asked if he had a Hungarian girlfriend and he said “yes” and then was quick to add “but that’s not why I came here, I am a political refugee!”. In university he got into politics and joined the opposition of the ruling regime. He had to flee to Nigeria and stayed there for 10 years but didn’t like life too much so he thought it might be better in Hungary and it was. I tried to ask about the politics of Cameroon but his accent was way over my head. The only thing I could understand was that he thought the rich world was living large from the fruits of Africa’s resources and labor and he said that “I decided to also enjoy the labor of Africa by coming here, and it’s really nice”.

He brought me all the way to the right metro stop. It took some time to localize the premises where Hungary’s national board game gathering was taking place, but eventually I found it and got in and said hello. It was already 5 pm and the event had been on since 10 am, but they were still about 20 people there, everyone engaged in various board games. I introduced myself and was given coffee and cookies and a table where I could set up my game. After a while 5 people came and joined me. As always, I let everyone choose starting prefecture before me. When they had done so, they were all so evenly spread out across Honshu (and of Kyushu) that I didn’t want to squeeze in anywhere, since I would give my neighbour a hard time. So I did the fatal mistake of starting at Shikoku. I even said “this is so stupid but I really feel like it will be interesting”, with the excuse that “I haven’t done it for two years”. Well, since rules have changed since 2005, it makes some sense to see “what happens” when playing Shikoku. But perhaps the first game ever of Seigo to be played in Hungary wasn’t the best occasion for this experiment.

It’s not just that playing Shikoku is bad for my chances to win. Since it’s a small island, all I can do after turn 15 is to draw Kanji cards. And when someone is sitting drawing Kanji cards every turn, the table gets full of them. In a game with experienced players this is not a problem; the Kanji cards don’t stay long on the table since someone Invents them sooner than later. The obvious benefit this gives the other players prevent a reasonably sane person from continuing flooding with Kanji cards. However, when you are on Shikoku, there is no other option. And when you are playing with new players (with no experience of Japanese) there is no one to take advantage of the abundance of Kanji cards and they are just piling up on the table, making the game even harder to grasp for a new player.

Besides from the Kanji flood, my absence from the game had another serious disadvantage: there was no one on Honshu to show how to play the game. Therefore the players were lost as what to do and played with empty eyes. I could give them suggestions, at least to those who could speak English, but telling is not as good as showing; there is nothing like “teaching-by-winning”.

After 1 1/2 hour of slow play they suggested we stop and count the score. The Hungarian players later gave very bad reviews on the internet. They found it “impossible to familiarize” with the Hiragana. One guy even suggested to replace the Japanese characters with fruits. Wow, changing the Japanese characters for fruits – that’s quite a blow to the very foundations of my life philosophy.

Well, they were right. Except for the fruit part 😉 I should have Latin characters in the game, as that’s characters that people in Europe can … read.

Then we played StreetSmart. They found “some potential” in it. They thought it too difficult to move in unaddressed areas, and too easy to move in addressed areas. It seems like that criticism has found its way through the Berlin Wall that is my childish pride; in the present version of StreetSmart, moving without addresses is easier than before, and with addresses it’s not as easy as it used to be. We played the most complex version of the game, and Scott – who got everything a bit faster than the rest – claimed a pretty quick victory after upgrading his title deed-protected stores with electricity. I felt the game ended to abruptly, and to make the Consumer less of a super-character once Addresses and Electricity are in place, I have changed the rules so that the Consumer refuses to consume on Shops covered with garbage. Ironically this causes the Consumer to pollute even more, which makes for better Cholera epidemics. Moahaha

I got a ride with two of my boardgamemates all the way to Balazs’ place. They dropped me off at a beautiful square and I looked around for a while till I found a big gate with the right number. I pressed the “Benedek” button and a voice said “hello” and I said “hi it’s Harald” and the door opened by itself like magic. I got inside the very old elevator and shook a few storeys up and when I came out a lady looked at my backpack and said something like “oh, a visitor to Balazs” and showed me the way. I came out on a balcony overlooking an inneryard and on the other side of it huge doors opened up and between them stood a smiling Hungarian programmer with glasses saying “hi, come in”.

This was my first Couchsurfing experience. As I entered the luxurious apartment I thought to myself “what’s the drawback? Will he start touching me?”. But he didn’t. He was just a very nice person. We sat down in the kitchen and I told about today’s hitchhiking and today’s gaming session. We had a look at my game and he asked for the price. He used to arrange programming contests. He had already eaten but asked if I was hungry and I had to admit I was starving and he apologized for not having anything at home but recommended me to go to the gyros shop next door. I asked if there was a cash machine in the neighbourhood since I had no currency yet and he said “but I can pay you half in Forint and half in Euro if you want”. Pay me? Wait a second, why is he paying me money for staying in his home? Aha, he is buying a game. I don’t think he knew it, but it was the first game ever to be bought from this printed edition.

I got the cash and got out and got a gyros. It tasted excellent. It wasn’t just the juicy taste of just-a-little-bit-crunchy Greek-style pork, it was also the juicy taste of profit. After coming back it was bedtime. He showed me my room; it had high ceilings, white walls and a huge bed. “There’s your ‘sofa’ he said”. I was his 9th Couchsurfer. I wondered if he changed sheets between each one.

36 hours of dust, sunshine and roadside grass had passed since i tried to wash myself in that shower-like thing in the Praha hostel. I got down in the bath tube, felt the hot water massage my worn muscles, laid down and looked up at the family’s clothes drying two meters above me, and got clean. Clean again!

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