Archive for June, 2008

Off Limits to Foreigners

Saturday, June 21st, 2008

Well it finally happened: I was busted by the police. If you research China you will discover that some areas are closed to foreigners. These are mainly in Qinghai province, where I am currently. This is where they keep all their political prisoners and other undesirables. It is a sparsely populated high altitude grassland. It is also part of the Tibet-Qinghai plateau and there are a lot of Tibetan nomads there. I had read about cyclists being escorted out of the area by police, but my guide book said the off limit areas are ill defined and even the police do not always know where they are. Plus, they seem to change all the time.

So figured I would just ride where I wanted and see what happened. Sure enough, in the tiny town of Tianjun, the police arrived as I was checking into a hotel. Through an interpreter they said I was in an off limits area and had to leave. Furthermore when they saw my map and asked where I was headed they said I could not go there. It, too, was forbidden to foreigners. Eventually, after about an hour of phone calls and discussion, they let me stay the night provided I got on an early bus back to where I came from.

The Olympics don’t help. The interpreter said things are especially sensitive right now with Tibet. Foreign tourists have not been allowed in Tibet since March and they don’t want Tibetans talking to any foreigners. But the official police explanation was that I had to leave for my ‘safety’.

To make matters worse, the Olympic torch is passing through Qinghai province now so the government is especially paranoid. They don’t want any wild, dirty foreign bike tourists disturbing their carefully choreographed show.

I did not see any alternative, although in my younger and more rebellious days I might have ridden out of town before dawn and continued on my way. As it turns out, they were serious. They came knocking at my hotel room door first thing in the morning and personally escorted me to the bus station, made me buy a ticket, and stood there until I was on the bus and ‘safely’ away. They are so thoughtful. Five hours later I was back in Xining, the city I had cycled out of four days earlier.

As you may know, Tibetans accuse China of human rights abuses and of political and religious repression in Tibet. I would like to research this more but most of the web sites related to Tibet seem to be blocked by the Chinese government.

Anyhow, here is my current position with my original and revised route.

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A few photos. Climbing up to the Tibet-Qinghai plateau some of the roads were not in the best of shape. My highest altitude was about 3500 meters (11,500 feet). It took about seven hours to get to the pass on this road.

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At the high passes yaks were my only companions

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Some roads were paved on the way down–yahoo! I was cruising.

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A view of one road through a gorge. It was cool.

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Before I got kicked out I managed to snap a few pix of Tibetans in Qinghai province. Here’s a couple guys that wanted their photo taken. They speak a completely different language so I had even more trouble than with Chinese.

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You see a lot of these Tibetan monks around. They don’t like their photo taken but I snapped this one before they could say no. Anyway, aren’t the Buddhists pacifist? What are they going to do?

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Another shot of some Tibetan nomads. It is cold up there. The average elevation is about 3500 meters. Now, in June, it rarely got above 12 deg C. (54 deg F). All the women cover their heads like this one.

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A young Tibetan nomad.

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Unfortunately this photo is a little out of focus but it shows the dress of a typical nomad couple. I found them fascinating. But it was impossible to communicate much.

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A shot of me on the Qinghai plateau before it rained on me. You can see there ain’t much around.

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One of the rivers crossing the plateau. I liked the shape and contrast with the grass. Can you spot the yak in the photo?

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A view from the bus. We had to stop a few times for yaks crossing.

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Now the disgusting part. As I mentioned previously, China, to me, is a dirty place. They just don’t seem to care about sewage and filth. In internet cafes it is not uncommon to get wafts of sewage drifting through. Hotels, even good ones, usually have bad smells or malfunctioning toilets. They see no need to fix them or to clean the bathrooms. For example, in this hotel, the bathroom was filthy. It was not a cheap one either. It was the most expensive one I could find (OK, still only about $12.) But would it kill them to run a mop through it once a year, or to clean the toilet bowl?

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Another thing that bothers me is the way kids urinate and defecate in public (adults too, but not as much). Every couple days I see some kid, maybe three or five years old, squat down on the sidewalk, pull down their pants and pee or poop right there. Don’t believe me? Check out this photo of the boy. He is taking a crap right on the public sidewalk.

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Now, I am not a parent, so maybe I don’t understand what it is like when your toddler has to go. But I have rarely seen kids in the USA use public sidewalks for toilets. How about it all you parents: is it OK for your kids to go anywhere when out in public? What do you do when your kid has to go and no bathrooms are around? Should the Chinese stop this practice?