Day Trip to the Countryside - 石家庄→正定→石家庄 Shijiazhuang to Zhengding and back - CycleBlaze

September 12, 2003

Day Trip to the Countryside

Zhengding is mentioned in the Lonely Planet as a lovely little town about 18 kilometers from Shijiazhuang. It has a number of temples and pagodas and other things. I figured I would pack a bag, stay the night, maybe even the weekend, and come back either late Sunday or early Monday.

On Tuesday I rode north on (平安北大街) Pingan BeiDaJie to Shengli BeiJie and continued on Shengli until I reached the practical limits of the city. I wanted to see if I could do it. I wanted to see if my guess about the direction of Zhengding was correct.

(I've lost my map of Shijiazhuang, so I can't check the road names and replace my pinyin with Chinese characters. Since I lived on Ping'An BeiDaJie for more than a year I already knew the characters despite it having been from the time when my Chinese really sucked.)

My local bike repair shop in Shijiazuang. He'd fix a flat tire, grease the chain, adjust the brakes, and give me a tune-up all for under 10rmb. (河北省石家庄市)
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The Lonely Planet is *gasp* wrong. Zhengding is not 18 kilometers outside of the city. Shortly before I reached the ring road I saw a sign telling me that I could reach Zhengding in 11 kilometers. I was still in the city proper and no more than 4 or 5 kilometers from my school and the center of the city.

Having previously confirmed my direction of travel I was comfortable packing a bag and setting out shortly after lunch. I packed a spare t-shirt and another pair of bicycle shorts, a bag of peaches, the camera and film gear, and a few liters of drinks.

(I have absolutely no idea what I meant by bicycle shorts when I originally wrote this in email form to my friends back home. Definitely not the wonderful padded contraptions with breathable synthetic fabrics I currently refer to as bicycle shorts.)

As I bicycled out of the city I discovered that Shijiazhuang is not actually completely flat. There are hills! The hills are just so gradual and smooth that they are nearly unnoticeable.

Perhaps 3 or 4 kilometers out of the city proper I saw my first incredible sight.

The Basilica of Holy Mary Mother of ... What the Hell is THAT Doing in China?!? (河北省石家庄)
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It is the newly renamed Basilica of What The Hell is That Doing In China. This church, which was visible from a fair distance, is HUGE and looks more like it belongs in Italy. It is sitting out in the countryside where you aren't apt to find lots of people let alone lots of Christians. I was unable to figure out a simple and short way over to it and had to satisfy myself with taking copious photographs of it from a distance. I'll be going back again to try to find a route over to it ... there were some promising possibilities, which, having a destination, I did not follow up on.

Using the long lens I got a close-up photo, but I never did find out how to get to this church or what it was doing there.(河北省石家庄)
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Then I climbed a slight hill to go over a bridge crossing a huge ditch, nearly half a kilometer across and perhaps 5 or 10 meters deep. This is either the remnants of a river or the beginning of a new canal. From the flatness of the surrounding land I just find it difficult to believe that this ditch (which extended in both directions as far as I could see) is anything other than manmade.

(During my most recent trip to Shijiazhuang in February 2005 the ditch had water in it.)

As I crossed the bridge I got my next two cool sights. I didn't stop to photograph these. Unlike the rest of the highway, on the bridge the bike lanes were not separated from the cars by metal barriers. Even if I did have a few meters on my side of the white line I wasn't comfortable stopping.

Down in the bottom of the ditch, apparently wandering untended were three magnificently large brown horses. Given the distance at which I was seeing them they must have been something like Clydesdales. And on one side of the ditch, there was a dirt road down to the bottom. Along the road were four Mongolian yurts with an additional two or three yurts near the bottom.

A few short kilometers later I was in Zhengding. I never quite realized how loud Shijiazhuang is. Even late at night there is the hum of a thousand air conditioners and the whisper of a few million people breathing. Out in this small town there were stretches of tree lined boulevard where I saw few people and heard none.

Children at play on a quiet street in Zhengding.(河北省正定城)
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I took two photographs of a camel. The camel owner wanted me to get photographed WITH the camel. That was the whole reason he had a camel outside of a museum. So people would pay him to be photographed with a Real Live Camel. But, to his dissapointment, despite my obvious interest in the beast, I didn't want to be photographed with a camel.

A camel in Zhengding.(河北省正定城)
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Because everyone needs to have their photo taken with a camel outside the Museum of Science and Technology in a small country town halfway between here and there.(河北省正定城)
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I found the temple that is the main attraction of Zhengding and, only then, realized that I had only packed extra shorts and a t-shirt. Whether or not other tourists will go into temples dressed this way, I won't. It is rude. If I know I am going to a temple I make sure to wear trousers or a skirt. So, after a quick photo of a sign telling me which way to go to get to the Temple of Confusion (Confucianism?) I got back on my bike and went back to Shijiazhuang.

This is one of my favorite examples of poor English on public signs in China.(河北省正定城)
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Today's ride: 33 km (20 miles)
Total: 33 km (20 miles)

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