Ride in the Paddy Wagon – Subei Part III

Subei_in_China Subei_in_Gansu

This post is both exciting and disturbing, but, to understand it, you will need some background. To understand the authority under which the police apprehended us, read this post on hotels and foreigners. To understand the day before, make sure to have read this post about how we got into this particular hotel.

We were returning to our hotel around midnight. Subei is a tiny town with few foreigners, and we had tried to avoid being seen by police. When we noticed a paddy-wagon creeping closely beside us, I waved Galen into an alleyway. We doubled back and waited for a few minutes, hoping that the police would get tired of looking for us.

Keeping to the alleyway, we slunk back towards the cheap flophouse where we were staying. Two men were urinating next to our hotel’s outhouse. Not realizing that that was where we were staying, I almost walked past the place. One of the men told me, “Oh, this is where you are staying.” I was surprised. At first, I assumed that it was just another one of the hotel’s patrons, one of the guys who recognized me from earlier that afternoon.

As we walked towards the light of the hotel entrance, I realized I was wrong. The man accompanying us had a crew-top above his slightly-built body, a camera dangling from his neck. He wore the light blue uniform of the police. Beneath the hotel’s entrance, the girl who had, that afternoon, jubilantly welcomed us looked distraught. “Sorry,” she said.

At this point, I was not certain of the nature of the trouble we were in. I assumed it had something to do with us staying in a hotel that did not allow foreigners, but I was not sure which way things would go from here. Would they just have a talk with us? Would they take us to jail? Would they kick us out of China?

We were walked into our room by the uniformed cop with the camera around his neck. The door had already been unlocked, and the light was on. It was clear that the police had already been in the room, though it appeared that they had not rifled through our bags.

The uniformed cop stood aside as a second police officer entered our room. He was cool, wearing a black 361° t-shirt and black slacks. I noticed a small pistol in a holster on his right side. Police in China do not usually carry guns, so we knew this guy was man was in charge, probably a member of the Armed Police. The father of the house, who we had eaten with a few hours before, walked into our room several times, ignoring us and offering the man with the gun a cigarette. “You should have called us immediately when they arrived.” He told the father, taking the cigarette.

The man with the gun turned to us and interrogated us a little. “Why did you come to Subei?”

“We came to hike in the mountains,” we told him.

The man with the gun explained to us the hotel we were currently at was so backwards that it did not have the software necessary to input our passport information, and therefore it was not legally authorized to accept foreigners. So, we had no choice but to leave that hotel. Only one place in Subei accepted foreigners, but I had decided that hotel was not worth the cost, being ten times more expensive than our chosen accommodations and lacking wifi.

“You can watch the world cup,” the man with the gun insisted. “You know Argentina is playing Belgium tonight. Have you been watching the matches?”

“I do not like soccer,” I answered.

“Well, the facilities in the hotel we are taking you too are much better for you as foreigners,” he said.

“But that hotel is too expensive, we do not have that much money,” I tried to resist.

“Either way, you cannot stay here,” he responded.

We had more back and forth, but I was clear there was no other option for us. Crossing his legs, the man with the gun sat on the bed and watched us pack. At first, he pushed us to hurry, but Galen had so much camera gear that it always takes him a while to pack. The man with the gun clearly wanted to be somewhere else, but he waited patiently as Galen gathered his stuff.

“When are you planning on leaving Subei?” the man with the gun asked.

I realized that we would now be watched closely. Our plans to hitchhike into the mountains and camp were impossible. “I guess we will leave tomorrow.” I told him.


As we walked out of the flophouse, the high school girl again approached us. “I am so sorry,” she told us. The uniformed cop helped us carry our bags into the paddy wagon and we climbed into the backseat.

The man with the gun slipped into the passengers seat as the uniformed cop began to drive. We made our way down the road, but he did not turn for the hotel they had said they would take us to. I realized, we were heading towards the police station. I did not know if they were going to have to process us.

In fact, we did not get out at the police station; we simply dropped off the man with the gun. Everything had been explained. He had flexed his authority. His job was done. “Call me if you have any trouble,” the man with the gun told the uniformed cop as we took off towards the hotel.

The streets were empty. By this time, it was half past midnight. We sailed quietly down the wide avenues. The remaining cop looked up in the rearview mirror and asked, “Why did you come here?” as if we had not been honest when we answered his boss.

“We came here to hike in the mountains.” I shrugged.

“Foreigners never come to Subei,” he said, repeating what others had told us.

Above is a video Galen secretly filmed while we were being detained.

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