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Day 11. Zhengding to Zanhuang to Xingtai

Monday, September 21, 2009 permalink [Permalink]

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
[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.

Unwanted Attention
[Unwanted Attention]

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
[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 distance.

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
[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
[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 another jurisdiction.

Being Detained Outside Hotel
[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
[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.

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