Day 11. Zhengding to Zanhuang to Xingtai
Leaving the tranquil surroundings of Zhengding was going to be tougher than we expected - but an unexpected brush with the Police would once again cause us problems.
Shortly after leaving our peaceful night-stop we entered the
city of Shijiazhuangshi; a large, bustling and very noisy city,
where even the bicycles form part of the traffic jam.
[Shijiazhuangshi Traffic Jam]
The city footprint on the map didn't quite show just how large
Shijiazhuangshi really was and our early morning progress came to a
very sudden halt. Not only did we fail miserably trying to
keep away from the traffic but navigating our way through to the
other side of the city proved very time consuming, no thanks to the
various road detours and construction.
There were cars, motorcycles, bicycles, even bicycles loaded 4
meters high with boxes with people sleeping on top; and as the sun
began to warm the black road under our feet, the whole experience
became rather torturous.
After almost three hours of winding our way through the city, we
eventually made it to some open ground, and decided to find a
restaurant to have a break. As it turned out, this was
perhaps a bit of a mistake.
Almost immediately after entering the restaurant we were
attracting quite a bit of attention. Firstly from the locals
who were taking photos of us on their phones, cameras, posing with
us and generally not allowing us to eat in peace; and secondly, the
weird vibe that was in the air.
Shortly afterwards, a lady and two gentlemen walked into the
hall - the lady spoke to us in English and presented herself as a
local teacher. She was acting as interpreter for the other
two gentlemen, but the questions they were asking were reminiscent
of an interrogation rather than friendly chatter.
[More Unwanted Attention]
It became obvious that the two gentlemen were police and were
trying to get as much information out as possible. Having
been in similar situations previously, Dave and I advised everyone
to quietly walk out of the restaurant, smile, mount our bicycles
and wave goodbye.
Initially they tried to stop us, but the language barrier proved
to be too difficult and we got out. However, we did notice
that the two policemen jumped into a black car and followed us at a
To prove the point that we were in fact being followed, I
suggested that the next turn we take we try to hide and observe
what they do. Sure enough, we were lucky to find a bridge at
a 90 bend in the road which allowed us to pass under the bridge and
disappear under some bushes.
[Followed by Police in Dark Car]
As if hit by lightning, the car sped and roared towards the
bridge in order to catch up to us; however they overshot our hiding
spot and realizing that we had disappeared, they did a quick U-turn
to assess the situation. We didn't want to show that their
game was up in case this provoked a negative reaction, but we did
chuckle amongst ourselves. They pulled up alongside and
waited for us to start again. After some 12 km they dropped
off and returned back to their town, we figured it was because they
had reached the edge of their jurisdiction and we had become
someone else's problem.
By late afternoon, we'd arrived at Zanhuang but once again we
had difficulties finding a hotel. Apparently the one hotel in
town was not registered to take foreigners and the girls at the
front desk didn't waste any time phoning the police.
Soon, we were being watched by 6 officers, the senior officer
being a woman who seemed to spend most of her time on the phone
with either friends or other officials. We couldn't
communicate, so they arranged to call someone who spoke some
English. When the English speaker arrived we found out that
the police wanted us to go back to the town we came from - this of
course wasn't going to work because there was no reason for us to
go back to the town we came from.
This was a photo moment, that's for sure - I managed to sneak a
photo from the toilet which was overlooking the car park where we
were being detained. You can clearly see the officer
negotiating our plight with the telephone in one arm and a very
fashionable handbag on the other.
[Posh Woman Police Officer]
We weren't going to budge; we were too tired to cycle anywhere
and certainly not back to where we came from - we wanted to go
South and kept pointing to a location on the map. This of
course turned the situation into a bit of a standoff.
The woman was on the phone constantly, but after keeping us
waiting for almost 3 hours sitting outside the hotel they came up
with the idea that they would use a police van to move us to
[Being Detained Outside Hotel]
As the sun set we made it plainly obvious that we were getting
cold and asked whether they could organize us some tea. I
must say, the police was very accommodating. Sure they have
their own rigid structure and regulations they must enforce, but
they were sympathetic to our situation. It was another hour
before the van arrived; however it proved to be quite difficult
fitting six bikes into a van filled with large seats.
Eventually we squeezed everyone into the bus, including the
interpreter and the police woman. Due to the seat shortage,
the police woman was seated on a wooden stool next to the driver,
while the rest of us battled the narrow and small seat
configuration of the bus. It took us another 3 hours before
we arrived at Xingtai, and another hour on top of that before we
located a hotel which would take in foreigners.
[Finally Arrived at Xingtai Hotel]
Having said all this, the day was filled with adventure and we
certainly got to see more than we bargained for.