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24 September 2014

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Edward Genochio

Ed in in Guizhou province
Ed in Guizhou province

No welcome in forbidden city

Devon cyclist, Edward Genochio is on the return leg of his marathon cycle ride from Exeter to Shanghai and back. This month Ed hangs out with some Chinese birds and gets arrested in a city where foreigners are forbidden to enter.

First up, a request: While it's 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 afternoon. 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 difficulty.

A bend in the river near Rongjiang
A bend in the river near Rongjiang

Of course, looked at another way, it might be that the Fulanese can pronounce all their letters quite happily, thank you, and it's 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 - 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, too. 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?

Dawn in Zhaoxing, Guizhou province
Dawn in Zhaoxing, Guizhou province

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.

Meanwhile. 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 at.

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 disclosed).

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.

Ed's route across China
Ed's route across China

Instead, my passport was confiscated, and I was escorted by no fewer than 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 way 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 - but 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 pyjamae'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.

last updated: 15/12/05
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Edward Genochio on his way to Shanghai
30,000 miles in the saddle

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