D61: 东胜→中山→蔡家镇 - China Blues - CycleBlaze

November 6, 2020

D61: 东胜→中山→蔡家镇

Most of today was excellent. 

Unfortunately, and especially as it is more or less how I ended the day, it's the parts of the day that weren't excellent that stand out. I suppose the best way to put it is "I've written another Complaint Letter". However, the fact that I've been compelled to write my second ever formal complaint letter to a part of the Chinese government about a subordinate part of the Chinese government isn't even the craziest part of the whole episode. 


The craziest part is that the behavior I experienced was so enraging and so outrageous that people I know who are also part of the Chinese government helped me to write this letter.

The morning started with me having a really hard time getting out of bed. Chongqing is not exactly one of those regions which is known for having blue skies and sunny days at any time between the end of September and the beginning of April. Furthermore, I'm on top of one of the encircling ring of mountains and am basically inside a cloud. If that weren't enough, my room's window wouldn't close completely so I've got a very chilly room and a bed that's so toasty warm and comfortable I actually had to turn the electric mattress pad off in the middle of the night.

The morning continued with me heading across the street to a noodle shop recommended by my hotel owner where the lady said "come sit at my table with me" before showing me that the tablecloth was insulated and the bottom of the table was a radiant heater. With my toes all toasty warm and my stomach full of hot soup, I managed to find all sorts of things to do that weren't "getting up and going biking". Usually breakfast noodles are a 10 minute affair. Add in coffee and they might stretch to 20. I was there for 45.

It wasn't even all that chilly outside. I only had the long tights on over a pair of undershorts matched with a pair of jerseys. No thermals at all. It's just that the heaters were so warm and so comfy that they won out over this whole being outside thing.

Eventually, however, there was only so much faffing about and delaying that could happen before I had to make myself leave. Especially as I was planning to end the day at a place called Zhongshan Ancient Town which I'd found to be a bit commercial but also a lot of fun back in 2012. Even though it seemed likely I was going to spend a whole day in Zhongshan, it still seemed prudent to arrive not too long after dark.

I don't suppose given how I started today's entry that it's much of a spoiler to say that Zhongshan is the place that gets honorable mention in the complaint letter.

From Dongsheng, I've got a lot of downhill. A lot a lot of downhill. Like, sure, I wrote very briefly about climbing up a mountain in the journal entry for coming the other direction, but - save for the parts where I get off the road to climb on things - I'm descending for 20 kilometers.

I'm trying to find any of the stone bridges that I photographed last time around though I won't (as I'll later learn) they've all had their decorative native stone railings replaced with jersey barrier type concrete walls that I suppose must be slightly more safe at the expense of being not at all nice to look at. I do find a stone bridge that's been unmolested by progress but that's mostly because the road no longer crosses it.

What makes this particular bridge so cool though is that despite being a stone bridge with a keystone arch and all that traditional jazz, the curved shape of the roadbed very likely indicates that it was built in the 1970s or later. Because once I started playing this "guess the age" game with bridges, I started learning a shit ton of random trivia about bridges, and bridges with roads that don't go straight are pretty damn modern.

Down down down the mountain some more. Some flatter land. In a town with an old street that has a lot of well preserved slogans from the 60s, I stop for lunch and am swarmed by the politest herd of children I think I've ever met. They ask if they can take a picture with me. They say thank you afterwards. It's so surprising and so refreshing that even though none of the children make it into my TikTok photo collage on the visit to this town, a note praising their parents and teachers for their behavior does

(To date, of the roughly 37 photos that were taken with me, no one has followed up and sent me their picture with me.)

At some point during my lunch, someone Official becomes aware of the foreign traveler in the restaurant and gets in contact with the owner of the restaurant. I know what's going on with the questions about looking at my passport and photographing my NAT but it's unintrusive and I really don't mind cooperating with people.

The GPS has given me two options to Zhongshan Town and I pick the one that isn't the main road. This means going up a totally unnecessary mountain (4km and a bit over 100 meters elevation gain) and then a lot of really quite steep ups and downs along a stunningly beautiful ridgeline. It also completely fucks with my schedule and means that I get into Zhongshan just as the last of the sun is going away.

This oughtn't ordinarily be a problem but they're having a power outage.

I'm up in the new part of town. I've already discovered that the places that are spilling out onto the sidewalk are restaurants that apparently have experience with power outages (come to think of it, the power went out overnight when I stayed in Zhongshan in 2012). I'm sort of wanting to see if I can either find the location of one of the new town hotels or the top of the stairs down to old town as well as looking for something food wise when the man starts shouting at me.

It's Chongqing dialect which is a variant of Sichuan dialect which really isn't Mandarin at all. With the addition of the arm gestures, I'm getting a word here and there like "sidewalk" and "motorcycle" but it's basically just a loud shouty man being loud and shouty. Every time he spouts a bunch of sounds at me, I respond in increasingly slow and clear and loud Mandarin "I can't understand you. Please speak standard Chinese". 

With everything being complicated by one of my friends in Haikou deciding that this is the perfect time to call me and prank me by saying that he's stuck in a whorehouse during a police raid (not actually true), I have just figured out that the Loud Shouty Man apparently wants me on the sidewalk and possibly wants me to park my bicycle next to some motorcycles that really shouldn't be in the stairwell of an apartment building when the police car shows up. 

The police then use their bullhorn to order me to put on a mask.

They might have been seriously overstepping ever single boundary of propriety but at least they are speaking to me in a language I understand. I get my mask from my handlebar bag and put it on.

Shouty Man is still shouting. And gesturing.

The police are out of their car. After an initial "what are you doing?" to which I respond "trying to find a restaurant for dinner", they continue to stand far enough away from me that all communication like "can we see your passport" needs to be shouted at full volume. They also physically prevent someone who is either a rubbernecker or just plain oblivious from walking near me. This is getting ridiculous.

At which point the ambulance shows up.
With a multiplicity of nurses.
One of them in full protective gear with goggles.

It has now officially gone past ridiculous and is approaching "what the fuck".

The woman in the bunny suit is kind of nasty. I don't like her at all. Yes, I'm being a smart ass by continuing to insist to answer everyone who asks the question "when did you come to China" with when I actually came to China and not my most recent entry, but that's the question she asked me. And unlike the other people who recover from my saying "2002" by asking the correct question, she just keeps yelling the same question at me. To which I respond by exaggeratedly shouting the numbers through my mask. 


She seems to eventually get this after the fifth or seventh time I answer. But she also wants the date. And she really doesn't like that I "can't" or "won't" give her a date more exact than "some time in August".

"How is it possible you don't know when you came to China?" she shouts.
And I shout back "because you aren't listening to me! It was 18 years ago."

Since the power is out and there's not a whole lot else to do, the crowd of onlookers has swelled to perhaps a hundred or two. I've handed over my passport. Both NAT results. Gotten the Chongqing green code loaded on my phone. Shown them that. Even pulled up my quarantine release from the end of March. I could check the GPS data to see how long I was standing on that street dealing with this but I know the whole ordeal was around 90 minutes.

Still, it isn't enough.

They decide that the street isn't the best place to be "dealing with all this" and that we need to go to the hospital. Which is 3km away. And to which I will be escorted with an ambulance in front and a police car in back. Both with their flashers on. The streetlights are also affected by the power outage so even though I've got a headlight, I'm basically riding blind as their lights are substantially brighter than mine and keep shining in my eyes. At one point I attempt to slow down thinking that if the ambulance maybe gets a bit farther ahead of me, I'll be able to better see the road, and the police car starts honking at me.

At the hospital - which I'm not allowed to enter because I might contaminate it - a plastic stool is put in the driveway for me to sit on. I count five uniformed police officers, and positively identify at least three members of the hospital parking lot public as government staff. With the exception of providing me with a stool to sit on, at no point does any one display anything that could be considered in Chinese terms as "polite behavior".

Although it is repeated that I was looking for a restaurant to eat dinner and that I had been planning on spending the night and next day in the town because it's a fucking tourist site, I am not so much as offered a package of crackers or a cup of water. I could get food out of my panniers and start snacking on that but I haven't restocked recently and all I have left is stuff that requires cooking.

Eventually, they decide that I'm free to go. By this point, the chance of my spending any money in their town has long since evaporated. One of the people asks if I'm looking for a hotel in the new town or the old, and I get the convenient excuse that since the power is still out over there, and charging my phone is kind of important, I'm going to go to the next town down the road.

I do some fairly significant hinting at the police pickup truck that I don't remember seeing come into the parking lot but they're either oblivious or intentionally ignoring my hints. One obvious government staffer finally says "thank you for cooperating" (did you exactly give me a choice?) and asks if there is anything "[she] can do for me".

All I ask is that they call the police station in the next town. To prevent a similar misunderstanding from occurring when I go to register. And she says she will. But when circumstances conspire (in a quite positive way) to send me to the police station in the next town, they had no idea I was going to show up until I was walking in the door. 

And the fact that the Bitch couldn't even make a fucking phone call on my behalf was the final straw that broke the camel's back. The one that turned this episode from one where I moan and groan to other foreigners into one where I dissect the experience, pick out all the ways in which they were ignorant, rude, illogical, incapable of critical thinking, and badly failed to do their jobs; and, write it down in a letter to their bosses.

Today's ride: 60 km (37 miles)
Total: 2,933 km (1,821 miles)

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