Three days ago I got back from a 24 hour road trip from Beijing, to where I live in western China (no stops… straight). It was epic. It was tiring. It was educational.
I’ve always wanted to make the drive from Beijing home. Having personally driven through many parts of western China with my friends, I wanted to get a taste of driving from East to West. You quickly realize that the second you step foot (or tire) outside of the Beijing city limits, rural China looks mostly the same everywhere. Granted, that’s painting in broad strokes and there are obvious exceptions. For example, large swathes of the population in ShaanXi Province (陕西) live in these weird mud houses carved out of the sides of the mountains. However, to the untrained eye, it looks just about the same across the board.
The four hour traffic jam in the middle of nowhere + the totally useless and unprovoked detour through rural Gansu was not so fun. Despite these lengthy delays, it was a great trip. Travelling via personal car in China is a real treat. You get to meet some seriously interesting people. For example, during the 3+ hour traffic jam on the interstate, I met a bunch of Inner Mongolian truck drivers who insisted on telling me “An American, a Chinese, and a Japanese guy all walk into a bar…” jokes. I only fully understood one of the jokes – and it was completely racial charged. They also insisted the Mao Zedong was actually born in ShaanXi in a mud carved house (he wasn’t – this is complete misinformation). The equivalent of if I told them George Washington was Canadian and was famous for flying F-16’s during WWII. I met a government official who insisted that American’s dont know how to drive and “Why would we ever want to drive through such a poor country?!” He was a real 工具袋子(google translate it) who quizzed us on Chinese history and then exclaimed, “See, these foreigners know nothing about our country!” Ten minutes later he was forced back into his car after losing a shouting match with Chinese truck drivers centered around the fastest route to western China from Beijing.
I loved every second of it. You want to experience some real unabashed raw Chinese culture, get stuck in a 100+ kilometer traffic jam!
This trip got me thinking about the last year of my travels in China (minus international travel). I did some quick math and figured out the following:
- Distance By Personal Car: 3,074 miles
- Distance By Train: 2,508 miles
- Distance By Plane: 10,584 miles
That’s a total of 16,166 miles in one country. On average I travelled 1,400 miles a month.
It sure feels like a lot, especially now that I’ve been fortunate enough to be doing a lot of work on the east coast (Beijing, TianJin). I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, but it’s been good to look back and visual see where I’ve been in China over the last year.
A quick note: If you are interested at all what it’s like to be a driver in China, I can’t recommend enough that you read Peter Hessler’s, “Country Driving.” It’s a wildly entertaining book about a different cultures view on something we all do almost daily – Drive. If interested in China at all, this book is a must read. Beyond that, it’s hilarious. Go check it out!