Monday, October 17, 2005

In which I visit Mr and Mrs Mao, Senior, hang out with some Chinese birds, and get arrested (again)

In case you missed the latest instalment on the mailing list:

First up, a request:

While it is nice to know that people are following my daily 2wheelin'
progress across China on my blog at, can I ask
those of you who are tracking me by sticking flags into wall-maps to
be a little less precise with your pin-pricks? I keep getting a sharp
stabbing sensation in my right buttock around 3 o'clock every

Thank you.

I left you last time in Jingdezhen, out of which I eventually pedalled
weighed down by half a hundredweight of spare pottery foisted on me as
souvenirs by various locals.

Slowly, chucking out porcelain ballast at the foot of every climb, I
made my way toward Hunan province.

Now, the Hunanese are tremendous people and I'm very fond of them. But
they do suffer from a collective inability to pronounce their 'H's and
their 'N's, and this, particularly if you live in a place called
Hunan, you might consider something of an inconvenience.

The Hunanese get round the problem by claiming to live in 'Fulan' -
for some reason the final 'N' doesn't seem to cause them the same

Of course, looked at another way, it might be that the Fulanese can
pronounce all their letters quite happily, thank you, and it is
everybody else in China who has problems with their 'F's and 'L's,
causing them to mis-pronounce Fulan 'Hunan'.

Whichever way you look at it, it was in Hunan (or Fulan) that on 26th
December 1893, a son was born to Mr Mao Shunsheng and his wife, Wen
Qimei. They called their son Zedong, and he went on to cause quite a
bit of trouble.

In the village of Shaoshan, you can (and I did) visit the very house,
nay the very room, in which the Dear Boy came into this world. The
stable and the manger are also on display, just across the courtyard.
There is a distinct Bethlehemian air hanging over the whole place; I
didn't actually see any shepherds, but then they were probably busy
abiding in their fields.

When you've finished having your photograph taken in front of Chairman
Mao's childhood home, at the Official Having Your Photograph Taken In
Front Of Chairman Mao's Childhood Home Photography Spot - sponsored by
Kodak, "Share Moments. Share Life.[TM]" - you can go up the hill to
the grave where old Mr and Mrs Mao are buried. And, if you feel the
urge, you can burn incense to pay your respects. It's OK to kowtow and
mumble a few prayers to the Great Progenitors of the Great Helmsman,

Or is it?

What would Mao, the man who wanted to sweep Confucianist
ancestor-reverence out of China, say if he knew people were coming
over all humble and weak-kneed before his parents' tomb?

One thing is for sure, if Mao were alive today, he'd be turning in his
grave. Perhaps any readers planning to visit Beijing soon could pop in
and check out his mausoleum in Tiananmen Square, to see if they've
mounted his body on a spit, and let us know.


Ah yes, those leggy Chinese birds.

Just west of Jingdezhen is a big lake called Poyang Hu. The place is
full of migrating water-fowl and quite possibly some interesting
viruses too. Among the many species which pass through is the Siberian
black-necked crane. Unfortunately I lack the ornithological expertise
to be able to say whether or not I saw any, though I think my
bird-spotting talents have come on quite a bit recently - allow me to
pass on a tip: if it has two legs, a tail, a beak and flies around
saying tweet, then there's a good chance it's a bird you're looking

Back to Hunan/Fulan. I left/neft that province a little quicker than
planned, courtesy of the Boys in Blue (formerly the Boys in Green) of
the Public Security Bureau of a town so secret that not only is it
forbidden for foreigners to go anywhere near it, but it is also
forbidden to tell foreigners that it is forbidden for foreigners to go
anywhere near it, until they actually arrive. By which time it is too
late, and they have to arrest you.

So I arrived, whereupon I was arrested by the local PC Plod for Being
a Foreigner in a Town So Secret that it is Forbidden etc.

After much questioning and fingerprinting and signing of confessions,
a spot of wailing and a few half-hearted gnashings of teeth, they told
me that, since I had expressed sufficient remorse, and since they had
heard of Liverpool, they would let me off with a warning, rather than
meting out the official punishment (the nature of which was not

They didn't let me keep the Official Warning Notice, though, which was
a pity because it would have made a nice souvenir and I think my
fingerprints look good in red ink.

Instead, my passport was confiscated, and I was escorted by no fewer
than 5 (five) police officers to a hotel, told not to leave the
premises, and to be ready at 0630 the following morning, at which time
I would be deported post-haste from the province. I squealed and said
that any use of motorised deportation aids would break my bicycling
'line' between China and England, but they were adamant that there was
only one was I was gonna be leavin' their town, and that was inside of
a bus.

At 0630 the following morning, one of the five appeared at the hotel,
dressed in his pyjamas and yawning melodramatically. He gave me my
passport and said:

"You have 90 minutes to cross the border. Have a nice trip, and make
sure no policemen see you until you're out of the province."

I took my passport, and ran.

Something felt wrong.

Realising I had forgotten my bicycle, I ran back again, jumped into
the saddle and pedalled hard for the border. At 0812, 12 minutes after
the pyjama'd policeman's deadline, I crossed into Guizhou province.

Where I met men carrying blunderbusses, shared a room with a lonely
minnow, and got drunk by mistake with Mr Lu, who only knew one
sentence in English: "Drink some more".

More of which some other time.

For now, let me risk re-arrest for divulging state secrets by
revealing the name of the Forbidden City into which I strayed. It is
called Huitong. Don't go there.

I leave you with my thanks to you for all your entertaining messages
of support and abuse over the last few weeks, which help keep the legs
turning, and to my kind sponsors, who include: -

* Decathlon China - for all your bicycling and sports needs in China:

* Drennan Co., the premier player in China's specialized equipment,
components and parts market. "Nobody knows China like Drennan! "

* Eclipse Internet, for web hosting and broadband internet access in
the UK, whose sponsorship of the 2wheels website will shortly enter
its third year.

* P&O Ferries, Providing Cross-Channel Solutions. (My slogan, not
theirs.) They paid for my trip from Dover to Calais in 2004, and have
kindly agreed to sort out the same journey in reverse some time in

Edward Genochio
Bingyang, Guangxi, China bicycling from England to China and back again

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