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Downtheroad.org RoadNews

Out of China:  Slipping Past the Watchful Eye.

January 5, 2006 (Luang Phrabang, Laos)


WB00771_.gif (436 bytes)  Previous Letter

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Cindie's Journal for this Letter

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Hello friends and family of DownTheRoad.org,

So many things have happened to us since I last wrote but a couple things really stand out. Several of our pictures were bought by Sage Publications for inclusion in the upcoming "Encyclopedia of Anthropology".  The funds we received from this paid for a well deserved dinner out for Cindie and me and the rest of the money will be used for the printing of our second book.  I would like to thank Sage Publications for taking interest in our travels and finding value in the content of our web site.

Another picture of ours was used by the nice people at   beyondreachmusic.com for their new CD cover.  The picture they chose was taken in southern Argentina in the prehistoric Cave of the Hands.  We were thrilled to see it used in such a creative way.  Please take a look at their web site and check out their new CD.

We have safely left China and are now in the southeast Asian country of Laos.  As you will read below we have tangled with the Chinese government several times during our nine month visit and were slightly worried about leaving the country without incident.  I think we would still be answering questions at the exit station but the computer was down and they did not know our history.

China is not a free country.  All media has to be approved by the government and all internet and email traffic is scanned for unfavorable content. They jammed short wave radio frequencies, blocked web sites, listened to phone calls, and stopped many of our emails from getting out.  I have never visited a country where I have enjoyed the people so much yet had utter distain for the government.  Chinese people only know what they are told through their state run media and propaganda pushing school systems.  They are victims of human rights abuses such as not being allowed to protest or speak out against the government.  When jailed for these offenses it is common that they are inflicted with torture and forced into labor like a slave of days gone by.  I do realize that China is improving in these areas, we have spoken with people who had visited the country 10 years ago and they described a much darker and restrictive China.  Maybe in another ten years we in the West will not be wearing shoes made by an imprisoned college students who dared to speak out in public. To me, "Made in China" means a lot more than it use to. 

We know we have not received all of our email while in China so if you have written us and have not heard back from us, please send your letter again.  We have lost contact with friends and business communications because of blocked email in the land of paranoia and oppression.

Far from home

The best (and worst) thing about traveling by bicycle is that it takes the rider to places never expected.  Many readers have asked, "What is the farthest away from home you have ever felt?"  I used to think of this question in terms of geography but my experiences in communist China have given me a different perspective.  Now I answer this question in terms of freedom.  The furthest I have ever been from home is sitting in a Chinese military detention area being guarded by armed soldiers.  I know that if I ever find myself further from home I will never come back.  The story below happen in April 2005 when we first entered China and spoke very little Chinese.  I waited until now to send this story out because I did not want our web site blocked while we were in China.

We were riding along on our bikes and saw what we thought were a group of farmers in the field.  Cindie riding behind me yelled out, "Tim Tim take their picture".  I pulled over to the side of the road and took two photos of the large group of farmers. It turned out that the farmers were actually Chinese prisoners working at forced labor. The next thing we knew we had guards chasing us with pistols.  We stopped and they immediately took our camera and demanded both of our passports.  Little did we know that we were also standing in front of a secret Chinese military academy.  This is probably a place where young soldiers learn the art of brainwashing and turning political protesters into slaves who make things like clock radios and blenders for export.  We could not read the Chinese sign informing all to stay away and not to take photos.  The Chinese government does not acknowledge that these secret prisons exist.  It is becoming known in the free world that they have many hidden prisons where political prisoners are tortured and forced to work in factories to build consumer goods for the west.  It is a serious crime in China to take photos of these prisoners or report in the news that such places exist.  We were now guilty of this crime.

As we were standing on the side of the road, offering to delete the photos, we saw a platoon of soldiers running in formation with their rifles.  I told Cindie that army guys run and exercise all the time and not to be alarmed.  My heart sank as I watched them run with urgency straight to us.  They immediately grabbed our bikes and marched us off to a detention room in the military academy.  I knew this was serious.  We waited there for three hours, seemed like eternity to me. They asked for our home phone number and I gave them my parent's number.  My parents had been called many times by teachers and school principals when I was a kid but the Chinese military would be a whole new level of getting into trouble.  I told Cindie that even Generals are no match for my mother.  Later, we learned that they never called.  During our detention the guards were pleasant but we were not allowed to leave. Our bikes were surrounded by a detail of armed soldiers standing at attention.  In Asia, whenever the need arises Cindie and I speak Spanish to each other.  We never know who can speak English.  In Spanish I tried to reassure Cindie and tell her we would be back on the bikes soon.  I asked her where was the last place she left off in her online journal.  She said that she was caught up to yesterday when we updated our web site.  She knew that I was concerned about leaving a trail.  If we ever disappear Cindie's journal would be the best tool to start a search.  When we were asked about our  unrecognizable English (Spanish) I told them that we have a thick Arizona accent.

Then a flurry of activity started.  All kinds of people showed up including high ranking officers from the local police, army, national police (equivalent to the USA's FBI) and, the scariest of all, quiet men in dark suits and sunglasses.  These men were the Chinese secret police much like America's CIA.  I knew they were high up because the low ranking soldier at the guard shack was very nervous and constantly saluting.  All the enlisted men were so scared it made me uneasy.  At this point I realized that they thought we were two American spies in bicycle tights and helmets.  They separated us and began to ask questions.  In the mean time they show up with a professional video camera and began taping everything.  Cindie had several guys in police and army uniforms in her room.  I had the national police and the guys wearing dark suits in my room.

Cindie's interrogation lasted two hours and they questioned me for an hour more. I was asked the same questions repeatedly by men who never removed their sunglasses even though it was raining and we were indoors.  They had brought translators but their English was so poor I still did not know exactly what they were saying. They asked why we were in this country and on this particular road.  Their favorite question was, "Did I take a photo of military base?"  My answer was no, I only took a photo of what I thought were farmers and not the base.  They did not believe me.  They were convinced that we were either spies or human rights activists both of which regularly get put to death in China.  When they told me that we had broken the law, I wondered what would happen next.

Then they marched us to our bikes and asked what was inside.  I was afraid that they would find our computer.  There was nothing incriminating on it, but I knew it would take them forever to look through it.  The camera and passports were time consuming enough for them.  The head military officer pointed at a bag and told Cindie to open it.  Of the twelve bags we have on our bikes it happen to be the one with the computer in it.  Cindie instead recommended a closer bag with our tent hoping to stall for time.  They pulled it out and marveled at its aluminum poles and the tag that had "Made in China" on it.  Once they were happy that our tent was not a threat to national security (even though it is illegal for foreigners to camp in China) they pointed at another bag.  Again, they unknowingly pointed at the one with our computer.  Cindie instead offered the waterproof bag with our two sleeping bags in it.  They were impressed with the lightness and quality of construction but the party ended when they read "Made in Taiwan" on the tag.  Through the translator, the 60 year old military official with four large silver stars on his shoulder asked why the tag said "Taiwan" instead of "China".  The Chinese believe that Taiwan is just another province of China even though the rest of the world accepts that it is an independent country with it's own democratically elected leaders, currency, and standing army.  I dodged this potentially dangerous international incident by telling them that the tag simply spelled China wrong or made a mistake.  The search moved on.

I knew what Cindie was up to.  She had them search the tent and sleeping bags first to wear them out.  We have been together 24/7 for years now and we know what each other is thinking.  We have wiggled out of searches in the past with the same trick.  When the officer asked for another bag she offered her bag that had dirty clothes in it. While we were still being video taped, she pulled out our medicine kit, pans, a roll of US cash that she hides, and some paperwork.  They were not interested in money or medicine. They were very interested in the photocopy of my passport.  They were looking for some kind of documents to prove we were spies.  I held up the paper next to my face but they did not think it was me.  The paper was taken away to be analyzed.  Cindie continued to pull things out of her bag until her underwear was laying on the ground in front of the crowd of officers who were turning red (along with Cindie) with embarrassment.  An order was quickly barked out, the video camera was turned off, and the search was ended.  This is not the first time we have used the dirty laundry trick.  Had they found our laptop they would have surely imprisoned us while they took the time to look through it.

When the search ended they escorted us back to the holding area and we had to wait for hours again. We finally were shown papers hand written in Chinese and told these were our confessions.  The translator slowly read them to us.  It essentially said that we had illegally taken pictures of prisoners.  We signed them and were told we were going to be released.  I asked for our camera and passports back. They did not want to return the camera so I told them that I would like to contact the US embassy in Beijing.  I pointed at the Chinese character in our phrase book meaning "embassy" so there was no mistake in translation.  I knew that in any large bureaucracy that poop rolls down hill and no one in that room wanted a foreign embassy involved.  They reluctantly returned the camera.  The IT professor told the commander that the illegal pictures had been erased.  I turned the camera on and saw "format error" and assumed the pictures were gone.  I did not care and just wanted my freedom.

Later when I put the memory stick into our computer I found that the IT specialist did not completely get rid of the illegal pictures of the forced labor camp.

You can see these pictures by clicking below.

When we were finally released it was dark and raining hard.  We rode two kilometers to a hotel room and went to bed.  The next day we were still in a state of shock.  When we left the hotel I thought someone was following us.  At first it was just a feeling but I quickly had proof.  As cars slowly drove past us we recognized the occupants as the people asking questions the day before during our interrogation.  They predictably drove black four door sedans with tinted windows and were always frantically talking into a cell phone.  They tried to act like they did not see us which made them even more obvious.  Everyone else (mostly poor rice farmers) stared at us because we were probably the first foreigners they had ever seen.  We stopped to eat in a small truck stop restaurant and two trucks pulled in and blocked the view of our bikes from the road.  I think our friends lost us for a while.  After lunch another car passed us and stopped.  A man with a cell phone watched us go by and called in our location.  I recognized him from the day before as the man taking notes in my room during questioning.  It gave me the creeps but Cindie was completely unnerved.  I tried to calm her down by saying "Cindie, do not worry about them.  If they really wanted us they would just arrest us again and take us."  Sometimes I can say the worst things to her thinking I am helping.

We rode on and happened to pass another military base.  We knew what they looked like by now.  In front of the military base they had a large truck used to transport troops waiting for us.  I knew it was full of soldiers because I could see the outline of gun barrels pressing against the canvas covering.  We waved, what else could we do. We could see the officer in the passenger seat call in our location.  We stayed in a hotel a few kilometers later that uncharacteristically did not ask for our passports.  Our followers did not see us go in the hotel.  They lost us again but this time it was near another army base.  I wondered if they had a long night as they combed the area looking for us.  The next day we had a car pass us and call in our location.  Later in the day, I had a flat tire so we pulled off the road to fix it.  As I was fixing the flat tire, a black sedan drove by with a tinted window rolled down.  I saw a 35 mm lens repeatedly taking pictures of us. Just like in the movies.  I thought "Don't they have hours of video of us including Cindie's purple underwear?" After three days of being followed like this, we rode into Yang Shou where there are lots of foreigners traveling and working as English teachers.  To the police we blended in because to them we all look alike.  We were not followed by secret black cars again but we were always on the lookout.

I believe the above incident is the reason we had trouble obtaining a legal travel visa extension and had to seek out other means.  We also had several smaller run ins with the authorities in China.  We were frequently kicked out of internet cafes by the police for connecting our laptop or making telephone calls.  The police also had the habit of knocking on our hotel room door after we had gone to bed.  They wanted to see our passports and fill out a form.  There are many more stories to be told but for now I do not have time.

We loved China in many ways but are very happy to leave because of the government.  I really feel sorry for the Chinese people, they can not leave.  Someday I wish for them to all enjoy freedom as the rest of us do.

Tim


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Cindie's Journal for this Letter

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2002 - 2012 DownTheRoad.org (TM) All Rights Reserved

 

 


 


 

INDEX #3: SE Asia / China
11-22-04 to 9-15-06

1North and
Central America
3-30-02 to 4-17-03

2 South America
6-3-03 to 6-17-04

3 SE Asia / China
11-22-04 to
9-15-06

4 Australia
9-15-06 to 9-15-07

5 New Zealand
9-16-07 to 5-2-08
6 Alaska, Canada, and the USA
5-3-08 to 4-30-10
7 India. Nepal, and the Subcontinent
5-1-10 to present


(see all 3 book)


November 22 - December 15, 2004
Thailand
Bangkok, to Aranyaprathet, Thailand

Cindie's Daily Journals
Thailand #1

Tim's Emailed Newsletters (Join  List)
INTRO Crossing Over to the Other Side: Relocating to Asia

LETTER Thailand: Landing in a Whole New World.

Best Place to see Pictures
Thailand Thumbnail Pictures

Full size Picture Pages

- Bangkok, Thailand
- Royal Barge Museum
- Wat Arun in Bangkok, Thailand
- Wat Phra Kaew and Temple of the Emerald Buddha
- Pictures of Wat Pho
- Bangkok to Chanthaburi, Thailand.
- Island Ko Samet National Park
- Thailand's famous Thai Food
- Chanthaburi to Aranya Prathet and the Cambodian border.


 

 December 16- January 16, 2005
Cambodia and Angkor Wat
Poipet to Tien Bien, Cambodia

Cindie's Daily Journals
Cindie's Cambodia Daily Journal

Tim's Emailed Newsletters (Join  List)
Cambodia: Poverty Does Not Equal Crime.

Best Place to see Pictures
Cambodia Thumbnail Pictures

Full size Picture Pages

- Pictures of  Poverty in Cambodia: Poipet to Siem Reap
- Picture from Angkor Wat, Cambodia
- Temples Bayon, Angkor Thom
Ta Prom (Temple where Tomb Raider was filmed)
- Preah Khan, Neak Poan, Eastern Mebon, Banteay Kei, Ta Som, Pre Rup

- Siem Reap, Cambodia
- Siem Reap to Phnom Penh
- Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- Tuol Sleng S.21 Museum of Genocidal Crime
- Killing Fields of Pol Pot Cambodia
- Phnom Penh to Tinh Bien


 

(January 16 - February 17 , 2005)
Vietnam #1.
Tinh Bien to Cau Ganh, Vietnam

Cindie's Daily Journals
Cindie's Online South Vietnam Journal

Tim's Emailed Newsletters (Join  List)

Best Place to see Pictures
South Vietnam Thumbnails

Full size Picture Pages

- Chau Doc to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
- Floating Market and Boat Trip Tour
- Vietnam War Remnants Museum
- Cuchi Tunnels, Saigon, Vietnam
- Cuchi Tunnels Cu Chi near Saigon, Vietnam
- Pictures from Dalat, Vietnam
- Bicycling from Dalat to Buon Ma Thuot
- Jun Village
- Buon Ma Thuot to Cau Ganh


 
(February 18. - April 2, 2005)
Vietnam #2.
Cau Ganh, to Lang Son, Vietnam

Cindie's Daily Journals
Cindie's Daily Journal for North Vietnam.

Tim's Emailed Newsletters (Join  List)

Best Place to see Pictures
North Vietnam Thumbnail Pictures.

Full size Picture Pages

- Cau Ganh to Hoi An
- Hoi An, Vietnam
- China Beach to Hue.
- Marble Mountain
- The Citadel in Hue
- Impoverished Highland Market Can Cau.
- Poverty Village of Bac Ha.

Hanoi water puppet


 
(April 3 - May 21, 2005)
Guangxi, China
Pingxiang to CongJiang, China

Cindie's Daily Journals
Finally in China!

Tim's Emailed Newsletters (Join  List)
Three Years and Still Going

Best Place to see Pictures
Best Thumbnail Pictures of Guangxi, China

Full size Picture Pages

- Pingxiang to Nanning, China
- Nanning, Guangxi to Liuzhou
- China's Karst Topography Landscape.
- Liuzhou to Yangshou, Guangxi, China
- Zhuo Yue English College in Yangshuo, China
- Li River bamboo boat trip in Yangshou..
- Ancient Chinese Stone Village of Fuli.
- Impressions light, dance, and music.
- Mountain biking through Yu Long Valley.
- Guilin to Congjiang Guangxi, China
- Reed Flute Cave Guilin China.
- Ping'an Guangxi, China.
- Dragon's Backbone and Rice Terraces.


 

May 22 - June 27, 2005

  Guizhou and Hunan, China
Congjiang to Zhangjiajie National Park China

Cindie's Daily Journals
Guizhou, China

Tim's Emailed Newsletters (Join  List)
Made in China: Free Birds in a Caged World!

Best Place to see Pictures
Pictures of Guizhou, China.

Full size Picture Pages

- Congjiang to Kaili, Guizhou, China
- Kaili Guizhou - Wulingyuan National Park, Hunan.
- Wulingyuan (Zhangjiajie) National Park, Hunan.


 

(June 28 - July 15, 2005)

Beijing, China

Cindie's Daily Journals
Beijing, China daily Blog and Journal

Best Place to see Pictures
Best and favorite pictures from Beijing, China

Full size Picture Pages

- Pictures from Beijing, China
- Pictures of Forbidden City, China
- Summer Palace
- Great Wall from Jinshanling Simatai, China.
- Badaling Section of the Great Wall of China


 

(July 16 - Sept. 3, 2005)
Inner Mongolia and Shanxi, China.
Beijing to Xian, Shaanxi, China

Cindie's Daily Journals
Cindie's Inner Mongolia and Shanxi, China daily journal (blog)

Tim's Emailed Newsletters (Join  List)
The Many Faces of China: Inner Mongolia and Shanxi, Provinces.!

Best Place to see Pictures
Thumbnail pictures from Inner Mongolia, China.

Full size Picture Pages

- Beijing to Jining, Inner Mongolia.
- Grasslands of Jining, to Wuchuan (near) Hohhot
- Hohhot to Bautou, Inner Mongolia, China
- Wudang Lamasary
- Bautou to Yulin, Shanxi, China with Photos from Genghis Khan's Mausoleum.
- Yulin to Yanan, Shaanxi, China
- Chairman Mao's Headquarters and Residence in Yanan, China.
- Yanan to Xian, Shaanxi, China.
- Terracotta Warriors #1
- Terracotta Warriors #2.


 

 (Sept. 4 - Oct. 29, 2005)

Sichuan, China
Chengdu, to Zongdian, China

Cindie's Daily Journals
Sichuan Blog

Tim's Emailed Newsletters (Join  List)
Into Occupied Territory: Tibet!

Best Place to see Pictures
Sichuan Thumbnail Photos

Full size Picture Pages

- Giant Panda Breeding Center #1
- Red Panda  in Chengdu, Sichuan, China #2
- Chengdu to Kangding.
- Kangding, Sichuan, located in Southwestern China.
- Mugecuo Lake near Kangding, Sichuan, China.
- Kangding to Xinduqiao
- Xinduqiao to Tibetan Home Stay.
- Tibetan Home Stay to 4718 meter (15,475 feet)
- to Litang, Sichuan, China.
- Litang Lamasary Tibetan Buddhist Monk Monastery
- Litang to Sumdo, Tibet
- Sumdo to Xiangcheng
- Xiangcheng to Derong, Tibet.
- Derong, Sichuan Province to Tibetan Shangri-La, (Zongdian)


 

(Oct. 30 - Dec. 24, 2005)

Yunnan, China
Zongdian to Mohan, China

Cindie's Daily Journals
Yunnan daily blog - journal

Tim's Emailed Newsletters (Join  List)
Out of China: slipping past the watchful eye of censorship.

Best Place to see Pictures
Yunnan thumbnail photos

Full size Picture Pages

- Shangri-La, - Lijiang - Dali, China.
- Dali to Jingdong, Yunnan
- Jingdong to Puer
- Puer to Jinghong, Yunnan, China
- Xishuangbanna Tropical Flowers and Plants Garden.
- Mengla to Mohan, Yunnan, China (border with Laos))


 

December.25, 2005 - January 23, 2006
Laos
Boten to Vientiane

Cindie's Daily Journals
Laos daily blog journal

Click here for our first downloadable video called
 "LAOS: VIDEO POSTCARDS FROM THE ROAD.

Best Place to see Pictures
Laos Thumbnail pictures

Full size Picture Pages

- Boten to Oudomxia, Laos.
- Laos Wood Carving Factory
- Oudomaxi - Luang Pabong
- Luang Phrabang, Laos: Monks, Wats, and a boat tour on the Mekong River.
- Luang Phrabang to Vang Vieng, #1
- Luang Phrabang to Vang Vieng, #2
- Vientiane, Laos


 

January 23 - March 12, 2006

Northeast Thailand
Nong Khai, Thailand to Bangkok

Cindie's Daily Journals
Northeast Thailand Blog and Daily Journal

Tim's Emailed Newsletters (Join  List)
Four Years DownTheRoad!

Best Place to see Pictures
Northeast Thailand Thumbnail Pictures

Full size Picture Pages

- Nong Khai to Dan Si
- Dan Si to Lop Buri
- The Ancient Ruins and Historic Temples of Ayuthaya
- Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand.


 

(March 13 - April 18, 2006)

Southern Thailand
Hua Hin to Satun, Thailand

Cindie's Daily Journals
Cindie's latest daily journal for South Thailand.  Now with over 4 years of entries!

5 minute Thailand Video
http://downtheroad.org/video/Files_Video/2Thailand_DownTheRoad.wmv

Best Place to see Pictures
Pictures from South Thailand.

Full size Picture Pages

- Hua Hin to Ranong
- Ranong to Krabi
- Boat Tour of Ao Phang Nga Bay
- Ko Lanta Beach to Satun Tropical Thailand


 

(April 18 - Sept. 15, 2006)

  Malaysia #1
Langkawi, Malaysia to Parit Buntar

Cindie's Daily Journals Malaysia

Tim's Emailed Newsletters (Join  List)
Two 1-Way Tickets to Australia Please

Best Place to see Thumbnail Pictures of Malaysia

Full size Picture Pages

- Langkawi to Nebong Tebal
- Underwater World Aquarium Langkawi
- Bird Paradise, Langkawi, Malaysia.
- Malaysian Home Stay and Cyclist Guest House.
- Traditional Tamil Indian Wedding
- Malaysian Home Cooking and Traditional Food
- Hand Made Pottery Factory
- Chinese Fishing Village and Party.
- Toddy Plantation Farm and Palm Oil Production.
- Malaysian Chinese Temple of Heaven and Hell.
- Malaysian Indian Hindu Temple and Religious Ceremony

 

(May to August, 2006)
Malaysia #2

Tanah Rata to Taiping, Malaysia

Cindie's Daily Journals

Video: Malaysian David's Cyclist Home Stay (5:35 min)
http://www.prescottyellowpages.com/Video/3Malaysian_Cyclists_Home_Stay.wmv

Best Place to see Pictures
Thumbnail pictures of Malaysia #2

Full size Picture Pages

- Cameron Highlands Trails and National Park
- Butterfly Garden
- Boh Tea and Sungai Palas Tea Plantation and farm
- Mardi Research Center, Tanah Rata
- Tanah Rata, Cameroon Highlands, Malaysia
- Indian Fire Walking Ceremony at the Hindu Temple
- Our 8th Wedding Anniversary the Cultural Indian Way
- Chinese Cultural Opera and Traditional Arts Celebration
- Malaysian Indian Religion
- Malaysian Guesthouse and Homestay #2

 

(July - Sept. 15, 2006)
 
Malaysia #3 and Singapore.
Taiping, Malaysia to Singapore

Cindie's Daily Journals for Malaysia

Best Place to see Pictures
Malaysia #3 and Singapore

Full size Picture Pages

- Penang hill Chinese Temple
- Taiping to Melaka, Malaysia.
- Taman Alam Kuala Selangor Natural Park
- Melaka, Malaysia, Southeast Asia.
- Cheng Hoon Teng Temple and Chinese Hill (Bukit China) Cemetery
- Melaka, Malaysia to Singapore


1North and
Central America
3-30-02 to 4-17-03

2 South America
6-3-03 to 6-17-04

3 SE Asia / China
11-22-04 to
9-15-06

4 Australia
9-15-06 to 9-15-07

5 New Zealand
9-16-07 to 5-2-08
6 Alaska, Canada, and the USA
5-3-08 to 4-30-10
7 India. Nepal, and the Subcontinent
5-1-10 to present
Where am I  now

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