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Road trip!

20 Aug

A few weeks ago I went to Yangzhou for work.

After clarifying with my colleague that we were really going to Yangzhou (not Changzhou – which I have been to before), I asked how we would get there.  Typically these type of day trips are by train.  Instead, my colleague informed me that he was going to rent a car and we would drive the 3.5 hours there and 3.5 hours back in one day.  I was in for my first road trip in China.

Yangzhou it turns out is very difficult to get to.  You can take a train to Nanjing and then transfer to the slow train that comes once a day.  Or you can take a bus.  Or you can drive.  My colleague decided driving made the most sense.

As a city, it is known for it’s tourist beauty and a ubiquitously named fried rice dish – Yangzhou Fried Rice.  When I asked around about what to eat – everyone said that dish wasn’t eaten in Yangzhou, but I should try their steamed dumplings.  Since I was going to a client meeting I saw none of the beauty of the city – and I didn’t even get to eat the dumplings because we were in the outer technology park.  That’s ok – eventually I’m sure that I’ll get back there.

Being an American, I know how to settle in to a long car ride.  Early that morning three of us met at the designated pick up point.  I came prepared with a large bottle of water, a small bottle of Coke and two packages of mints.  I also nabbed the passenger seat given my long legs and settled in.

Thinking back over the last six years – I have never been in a car in China for that many hours in one day.  I’ve been in buses, on trains and obviously on airplanes, but car rides are typically limited to taxi rides in the city or occasionally grabbing a ride with a colleague or friend who has a car.  As we battled the ever-present traffic in Shanghai trying to get out of the city, I realized how nice it was to not have to deal with tolls and gas stations – the trains really take care of you from that perspective.

As we steadily drove west the traffic thinned out.  My colleagues and I talked about our upcoming meeting, about their hometowns and about all kinds of other things that only make sense in the confessional of a car.  We crossed bridges and rivers, we drove by huge transformer stations and also passed prosperous looking fields.  Given the heat, everything was deserted except the expressway.

The rightly named - "Big bridge" (大桥)

The rightly named – “Big bridge” (大桥)

After pulling off for a quick stop to stretch our legs at a rest area we headed back to the road.  A flashing sign above our heads warned us that the pavement was 53 degrees Celsius (127 degrees Fahrenheit) and we should give our tires the chance to rest often.  Coming back from the meeting the same sign said the temperature of the pavement was over 57 degrees C (137F).  Talk about hot.

Our meeting went well, we had just enough time for a quick lunch near the client’s factory even though we got lost in the last 20 kilometers because the GPS drove us off the road.  Coming back, the same thing happened.  My colleague finally pulled over and asked a local how to get back to the expressway.  He said that until recently, you went one way, but since they just opened another route, lots of people were getting lost lately.

Finally back on the right track, we settled in again and missed the traffic back into Shanghai.  It was a 10 hour day for a 2 hour meeting in total, but did give me a sense for the road trip here in China.

The best part of the road trip - going home with the sun setting behind you

The best part of the road trip – going home with the sun setting behind you

Where has been your favorite road trip?  What treats do you bring along?  Are you a map reader or a GPS junkie?  Share your stories.

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