Day 32 – CHINA: Arrested progress in Tuargun, 35km west of Xinyuan


I slept like a log last night and was phsyched up to get my blog up to date. Tuargun doesn’t have much in the way of eateries, so I bought some tasteless mutton steamed buns and nan bread and ate some of those for breakfast. Man, how I miss a bowl of cornflakes with milk for breakfast…

I managed to upload a good lot of photos including descriptions before lunch, using a batch resizer recommended by Rob, a recumbent tricycle rider who is riding 25,000km around China at present.

I figured with all the photos uploaded, it was time to take a break before getting back into the daily posts after lunch. The internet cafe owners recommended a place just over the road for good noodles (noodles again). So I nipped over and ordered a big bowl. As I was waiting, a police officer wandered over from the police station next door. Can I have a look at your passport? I handed it over and he took a few moments to flick through it. Without handing it back, he called someone on his cell phone and I caught the words ‘foreigner’ and ‘doesn’t have’. It was at this moment that I began thinking that comething could be amiss with the situation.

A few moments later two more police officers arrive, and my passport gets handed around some more. They ask for my ‘travel permit’. “Um, what is a travel permit?” I ask.

This is greeted with air sucked through teeth and general silence. “Is there a problem?” I ask.

“Yes.” the officer across from me says.

They scribble down in Chinese characters the characters for “foreigner” and “closed area”. By this time I have figured out that I am in one of those infamous “closed to foreigners” areas that I have read about in other travel blogs. How the hang are you supposed to know? I had no issues in Houxia or Balguntay…

They take my passport, and tell me to come to the police station after I have finished my noodles. From here, I’ll write from my diary:

2pm: Currently sitting in police holding room with a guard carving at his desk with a razor blade. I understand that a translator will not be available until 4pm, so I need to wait here. What will happen? Bad idea to go to that restaurant next to the police station for lunch. But I had no idea, so no need to be hard on myself. It would be nice to know the implications of the situation…

3pm-ish: Have been asked some questions such as how much did I earn a month in Japan, when am I leaving this town.

3:30pm: China Unicom guy arrives, he can speak English. Doesn’t appear to be the interpreter though. Just a curious local. Officers trying to ride my bike. I hope they don’t break it. Passport passed about, even to non-police people.

4:15pm: Translator has arrived, a local English teacher. It appears that I know more Chinese that she does English. We move to the ‘questioning room’ and I am formally asked questions that I have already answered informally in the holding room. Large table with pale blue checked table cloth. I am at the head of the table, translator and her cousin who speaks very good English are on my left, officer and pleb on my right. The atmosphere is jovial with a hint of the officer trying to make things seem formal.

5:30pm: I sign and fingerprint my statement. It basically goes that I am in China on holiday, I have been to these places on these dates, and I am in a closed town without a permit. I am told that I must go to Xinyuan, a city 35km away, tonight. I am not allowed to stay here. Once in Xinyuan, I must go to the police station and register there. Am told all towns between here and Yining are closed and I cannot stop there, even to buy things. Am also told that I need to pay a 500RMB fine for breaking the law. I physically do not have 500RMB on me, so it is agreed that I can pay US$60 and 20RMB.

6:40pm: Have been waiting here in the pale blue checkered table cloth room since 5:30pm. Apparently the official bill/receipt for the fine needs to be driven from Xinyuan in order for me to pay the fine. I cannot leave and receive my passport until I pay the fine.

6:50pm: It is now too late for me to go to Xinyuan tonight. I can stay the night here.

7pm: Still waiting. Very hungry

8pm: Still waiting. Apparently this police station only yesterday received indepth training about the law concerning closed towns. According to the translator, if I had been in this town only a few days earlier, I may not have had any issues.

8:30pm: Finally bill arrives, I pay the fine. I cannot leave however, because there are problems with the computer to process the bill.

8:38pm: Finally get the OK to leave, however am called back just as I am leaving the building because I need to re-sign and fingerprint my statement that has been rewritten because some sentences did not fit the protocol for fomat of the statement.

So after more than six hours ‘under arrest’, I guess, I can leave, have dinner, and return to my motel.

I arrive back to the motel and am greeted by the owner who is almost in tears. He explains that he has to pay a fine of 500RMB and do community service for allowing a foreigner to stay at his motel. This is not a rich family. I almost break down crying right there, and am gutted that I have caused this much damage for his finances. It is obvious that 500RMB is a big blow to him. I offer him US$50 (about 400RMB) in cash to help compensate. At first he does not accept, but later accepts to take the cash.

After giving him the cash, I begin wondering why on earth they did not tell me that this is a closed town? I had dinner and a beer with the internet cafe owner, and even chatted with a local court worker in English. Surely they know that the town they live in is closed to foreigners. I don’t have the courage to ask him tonight, however in the morning the next day I asked, and he said of course he did not know. “You didn’t know, I didn’t know, and yet we must pay a fine”. He made a few gestures that described his feelings towards the local authority…

Expensive bit of paper - my 500RMB fine receipt for being in a closed town (Tuargun) in China / 値段のたかい紙 - がいこくじんが非開放地区にはいって、とまってしまったら、ばっきんとして500げんをはらわないといけない

So it was a very expensive day. I leave very early tomorrow morning and head for Yining City. No stopping in towns for 200km.


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8 thoughts on “Day 32 – CHINA: Arrested progress in Tuargun, 35km west of Xinyuan

  • Aunty Jenny

    Do you think that the general public is not notified about certain laws so that officials can charge them fines whenever it suits them? Not a very nice experience for you though.

  • Rachel Callander

    Oh Robbo

    It makes a great story tho….

    …. for years to come, there will be references made about that time you were locked up….

    That really sucks tho. For you and the poor community who are being ripped off by their own council.

  • Jason Brune

    Rob, been following your adventures for awhile. I’m really amazed by your open mindedness to the people, culture, and landscape. You are able to find the beauty in everything. I glad you can take every step back with some humor. Your blog reminds me of one of my favorite books, “Miles From Nowhere” by Barbara Savage. Maybe when you reach London, you will decide to keep going and travel through the US. Or better yet, I should row a boat to London and buy you a pint. I look forward to reading your posting and keep up the good journeying. The photos are great.

  • Uncle Peter

    Ignorance is no excuse under the law.

    Anyway, why tell someone when you can give them a wee surprise and relieve them of some money. It's one of the priviledges of being a foreigner – or ignorant peasant.

    We all need the nous to be able to ask the right questions to get the right answers.

    UP

  • Rob Thomson Post author

    Andrew, dunno why they close towns to foreigners. In fact, I asked the translator is she knows the reason for her town being closed. She said she is sure there is a reason, but she doesn't know it. Pretty harsh if you ask me!

  • Pat McInnis

    Rob, you are a very brave courageous young man. I am thrilled that you visited with my son Patrick and his family this past weekend in Spring Hill, florida…I am sure that Nick and Hannah will remember your visit and your prowess as a magician forever.

    Stay safe across that old Santa Fe trail on your way to San Diego…Pat McInnis