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.


15 Responses to “Road trip!”

  1. searchingforsubstance August 20, 2013 at 8:34 am #

    interesting. i’m curious as to what china looks like, in between cities. what was the scenery like between shanghai (your departing city right?) and yangzhou?

    i am a map reader. i don’t like GPS machines… when you drive with one, you begin to follow it blindly and don’t have a real understanding or growing knowledge of the area, like you do with a map. although i know in some places where you get completely lost, a GPS can be helpful. i think it has its pros and cons, but i choose a map over a gps anyday.

    • gkm2011 August 20, 2013 at 9:50 pm #

      There were fields and houses and huge power plants. It got steadily more rural, but the farmers in that area are known to be prosperous. It was a beautiful expressway though, so that meant I didn’t actually see that much!

  2. pollyheath August 20, 2013 at 10:14 am #

    I’m definitely a map person, though I’d maybe trust a GPS while abroad. I’ve been dreaming of road-tripping through Russia, but the roads are awful. How’re the roads over in China?

    • gkm2011 August 20, 2013 at 9:51 pm #

      Some roads are beautiful, others not so much. I would say in the last five years much improved. That said, as soon as you go “off the grid” you are talking very dangerous dirt tracks and landslide conditions during the rainy season.

  3. Valerie August 20, 2013 at 10:35 am #

    M&m’s are a card ride staple – peanut or peanut butter are my picks.

    • gkm2011 August 20, 2013 at 9:52 pm #

      Totally with you on the M&Ms, I especially love peanut butter ones, but they don’t sell them in China! Duty free Singapore has them though. 🙂

  4. expatlingo August 20, 2013 at 9:11 pm #

    So many expressways are new in China that it seems like everyone is forever getting lost and asking for directions. When we lived in China, every time we drove (or more accurately were driven) from Zhuhai to Guangzhou the route changed as new roads, bridges and flyovers were created.

    I’ve never heard about warnings to give your tires a rest because the road is so hot!? Very interesting.

    • gkm2011 August 20, 2013 at 9:53 pm #

      I had never seen those warnings before either, but I also bet I have not been on a roadway that warm. Suppose they can’t hurt.

  5. Every Day Adventures in Asia August 21, 2013 at 1:04 am #

    I grew up with booklets prepared by CAA with routes, suggestions for interesting sights, places to stay and more! I totally miss all the cool stuff that we learned while driving for days around North America with these as our guide. Somehow GPRS just isn’t the same. 🙂

    • gkm2011 August 21, 2013 at 7:50 am #

      We had the same things with the AAA! I remember my mom going to their office and they prepared a “trip tic” with each route which they would then highlight and the bug highways opened into city specifics. I was sad when the AAA office closed by our house,

  6. Sherri August 21, 2013 at 1:05 am #

    Maps all the way! SAT Navs have got us lost too many times!

    • gkm2011 August 21, 2013 at 7:51 am #

      I think for a trip you are planning a map is invaluable. Though I did one successfully reroute us on the way to the airport in Michigan using only my mother’s iPhone.

  7. glen van alkemade March 11, 2014 at 10:08 am #

    Here’s a road trip story for you, set in the American midwest.

    • gkm2011 March 16, 2014 at 7:57 pm #

      Sounds less pleasant than mine!


  1. Finding peace in Hangzhou | 中国 Jumble - September 5, 2013

    […] week in a row I have had a long road trip to a second tier city for work.  Two weeks ago it was Yangzhou, last week Changshu and this week Hangzhou.    Hangzhou was an overnight stay and to tell you the […]

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