The Three Gorges of the Yangzi, Day 17: A long cycling stage from Pingli to Zhenping. 115 km.
Phew, we made it! After 115 beautiful but strenuous kilometres of cycling, we arrived in Zhenping before 5 pm. Tired and happy we sat sipping a well-deserved “dirty beer” in the lobby when the front office lady received a call from the local police office. Someone or something (a CCTV camera?) must have noticed that a suspicious group of six Western cyclists had arrived in the city, and they must have followed the lead up to the hotel where we stayed. In a small place like Zhenping (the municipality has about 50,000 inhabitants), far away from any tourist sights known in the western hemisphere, a group of white travellers stand out like a handful of potatoes in a sack of rice. During the last couple of days, we had already gotten used to the curious looks and murmurs of people we passed, as well as to the obligatory photo-shooting with the whole staff of every store or restaurant we entered. While these encounters are flattering and quite funny most of the time, we had also received a more unpleasant type of attention: A couple of days ago we had been stopped by police and had to undergo a slightly annoying procedure of having all our passports checked and photographed multiple times. When the front desk lady informed us kindly that the police would shortly arrive to ask us some questions we suspected a similar procedure.
We didn’t have to wait long until the police showed up, but we had expected something different altogether: Instead of the usual bossy police officers, in walked a tiny lady in police uniform, with a shy look on her face. She greeted us and warmly welcomed us to stay in the little town of Zhenping. In a most friendly way, she asked where we came from and said that she admired us for our spirit when we told her that we had cycled all the way from Xi’an to this place. We had a nice little conversation and in the end, she shyly enquired if she could ask us for a favour. Of course she could, and with a little blush she asked if we would be willing to take a picture with her so that she could keep some sort of memory from this special encounter. She led us to a place beside the river where flowers had been put up, a pretty spot for a photo-shooting indeed! After some posing and picture taking she happily thanked us and wished us a smooth and safe onward journey.
Today’s morale is the following: Don’t judge a situation before you’ve lived through it. Even a police control in China can end up in a flowery group picture, friendly words and shared laughter.