D7: 五里 - Me China Red - CycleBlaze

March 25, 2021

D7: 五里

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It was kind of a given what with yesterday's hiking, the effects that the cold weather was having on me (the glammy hotel room in Baishui had a mirror on the ceiling and a QR code operated condom dispenser, it did not have so much as an electric blanket), and the stomach gurgles (that had had me stopped by the side of the road in someplace where I'd have been visible to every passing car if any cars had passed) that I was sleeping in late today.

Changes in temperature during the night seemed to be more in line with a mild fever breaking than they were actual weather conditions, and there always was the possibility that the cough I've been having most evenings this trip is not caused by tickles of coal smoke but is instead from that first day's ride in the rain.

I was up with the dawn however. Not because I was rip ready roaring to go or anything like that. Nope. I was up with the dawn because of a motherfucking rooster that was also up with the dawn. On my way back from the latrine, an old woman who very well could have been the wife of the man who took my money the previous night asked about an ID card and I said I had a passport before I crawled back into bed to nap on and off for the next many hours.

Someone rattled the door at around 11:30 to let me know that check out was at noon and if I stayed past that point, I'd have to pay for half a day. I mumbled something about cold weather, tired legs, and no problem I'll pay you when I leave the room.

It's definitely not the Ritz Carlton
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I didn't leave the room again until it was close on to 7pm. Other than the obvious lack of hungry on account of my not using any energy because I wasn't getting out of bed, I'd gotten the dried peaches that had worked so poorly in oatmeal from one of my panniers and snacked on a few.

I'm going to assume that it was actually the staff (who might all be one family) of the restaurant attached to the hotel like place I was staying who told the police that I had emerged from my nest rather than anyone "reporting" on me as a "suspected disease vector" because the general treatment I'd gotten so far from everyone I'd seen or interacted with in town was less 2020 and more 2012. I'm not just talking no masks, I even had people coming up to me to shake my hand.

Armed with a mobile phone app that clearly linked to Public Security Bureau databases (my passport number produced a photo of me which led them to an abbreviated version of my travel history) and that, just as clearly, had never been used by them before, they were here to register me and to find out my travel plans.

Now, by this point, I was pretty sure I was staying a third night as the weather forecast looked terrible, but I really didn't want to be so I was pretending that tomorrow wasn't expecting a high of 11℃ with 95% chance of rain and that I actually would be leaving.

I had come from Baishui. Visited the Anmenshan Grottoes. Was planning on going to the Fudi Grottoes nearby but had found out that they'd recently been removed from their isolated island in the Fudi Reservoir and were currently awaiting reassembly at the county museum; and, that as no amount of big eyed pleading on the part of my assistant had made me out as important enough to get in to take a look at, I was going to head north instead.

"Fudi Reservoir's a very nice place to visit" the one cop said, completely missing the point that the only reason I wanted to go was to see the stone carvings. So I talked about the weather and my heading north to the next county over as I continued my Silk Road Journey to see the historic grottoes of northwest China.

"But the reservoir is to the south, you'll miss it completely if you go north."

"The statues have been removed. They're in the county museum now. I'm told the exhibit will open in August."

"There were statues?"

"At the Fudi Grottoes" and I pulled up a picture on my phone.

"Are you sure that's our Fudi Reservoir?"

"Yes" (Well mostly yes. The Chinese internet isn't exactly well known for making sure pictures match text.) "However, the statues have already been removed to the county museum. And they won't let me visit until it's open to the public."

"Oh." There was a bit more asking me about my travel plans, and my travel history followed by a "So, how long have you been in China?" that might have actually been what it sounded like and not the post-Covid nosy-normal "when were you last overseas?"

"2002."

"That must be why you use chopsticks so well."

"Um. Yeah."

Conversation fizzled after that and he wandered off to do more helping his colleague puzzle through the phone registration app while I continued to eat my dinner.

It might have been the same cop who came over a bit later to tell me that even though they really shouldn't be letting me stay here as this wasn't one of the two hotels in Yijun County allowed to take foreigners, there wasn't really a problem with registering me to let me stay. It just as well might not have been though. I wasn't really paying that much attention to the difference between one middle aged man in police uniform and another when I could be paying attention to my dinner.

"Do you have that in writing on official government letterhead¹?" 

"Huh?"

"Official government letterhead. Do you have something you can show me the says foreigners are only supposed to go to two specific hotels in Yijun?"

"Well, those two are the only ones that can register foreigners." He says, as if he and his colleague have not mostly managed to finish deciphering my passport's important data and gotten it entered into a registration system all by themselves and without any help from me (not that I didn't offer!).

"Foreigners have been able to stay at all hotels since 2003.²"

"But this isn't a hotel!" He protests. "This is a guesthouse."

"Per State Council decree, as of October 1, 2003, foreigners have been allowed to stay at hotels, motels, guesthouses, dormitories³. So, do you have something you can show me, in writing, on government letterhead?"

"Umm." He's silent for a bit. Then a bit longer. Watches me eat. Says nothing. The silence stretches out into awkwardness. Finally, he decides that going to look over his colleague's shoulder at the by now almost completed registration while getting a cigarette out and lighting it is a better use of his time than talking to me.

They finish up. Ask me for a phone number. Gesture vaguely in the direction of the police station. Tell me their number and that I should let them know if the weather makes me stay another night, and leave me to finish my meal.

¹ This sentence is a lot less clunky sounding in Chinese. The four characters 红头文件 literally mean an officially printed document on formal government letterhead.

² After what happened last year in Zhongxin, I quite carefully was not using my previous favorite phrase that "the license to take foreigners is called a business license" as nothing I've seen about the place I'm staying gives me the confidence that it does, in fact, have a business license.

³ I actually named seven kinds of places 酒店、宾馆、招待所、旅馆、旅社、宿舍、民宿 but most of them end up as the same word in English.

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