Where I’ve Been and Where I’m Going.

Not long ago I put together a list of all the places I’ve been in China. After filling an A4 page, it seems that it’s better to describe the places that I’ve not yet visited, so here is a map and a list-

Red areas are not yet visited, blue ones have been conquered already.

Shanxi Province

Ningxia

Qinghai

Tibet

Liaoning

Jilin

Heilongjiang

Jiangxi

Inner Mongolia

Tianjin

China is made up of 33 divisions or areas. This includes 22 provinces. The others are 4 large cities,  five autonomous regions (province sized areas and)  then there are Hong Kong and Macau, old foreign territories and now classed as ‘Special Administrative Regions’.

So, I figured I’d visited 23 of the 33 parts of China… Why not try to see all of them?

Out of the 22 Provinces ( so big they each are the size of European countries with similar populations) I have 5 left to see.

Out of the different classed autonomous regions (mostly these are full of people who are ethnically not Han Chinese) I had only The vast and sparsely populated Qinghai province up on the Tibetan Plateau, The small, mystical Province of Ningxia wedged up in the North and centre of China, which is largely filled with Hui Muslims, and Inner Mongolia, a place of ethnic Mongolians, rolling grasslands and horse milk liquor.

The three North Eastern provinces called “Dong Bei” in Chinese are also still unconquered. These Butt up against Russia to the North and North Korea to the South East.

The trickiest of these areas is Tibet as it requires that foreigners join a tour group to visit and obtain a permit to enter.

This is my mission… To visit all of these areas in one trip.

Should be exciting.

Afterwards, I’ll have been to every province and region in China. No mean feat, given that China is roughly the size of The U.S.A.

Back in Britain, I used to work in the travel industry. I worked for a time for the U.K.’s biggest Tour Operator in their long-haul division. My job involved sending people away to far-flung places like Africa, South America and Asia. When it came to China, most of our customers would do a three centre trip Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai. I think there’s more to China than that.

I lived in a smaller city in a lesser developed Province for three years before…These smaller places are more relaxed and I think visiting these small places helps you see the “real China”, which is a must to understand the place..the struggles this massive country faces in it’s road to industrial development and seeing the way the normal people of China live.

How to get a Chinese driver’s license in Shanghai (including a motorcycle license)

How to get a Chinese driver’s license in Shanghai (including a motorcycle license)

The end result. A Chinese driving license(mine) with motorcycle endorsement.

Just a note that this information may be horribly outdated by the time you read it. My Shanghai riding buddies inform me that now foreigners actually need to take the written driving test in Chinese. 

When I did the test, one only needed a foreign license (British) to drive a car.* I’ve heard that the procedure varies depending on your nationality. For example Belgian passport holders don’t need to do ANY test. You’ll note in the following description, that at no point did I take lessons or do any practical test on a motorcycle to get my license…

 So yes, the place to get your license in on Hami Road. This is called the 车管所 (cheguansuo)and is frantic as it’s not only the testing centre fro licenses but also the issue office for license plates in Shanghai.

You could take a Chinese local with you but in my case my lady friend actually took us to the wrong places, so… I’m pretty sure you can do this on your own. Plus… there is a lady in the Hami road (哈密路)Traffic Police centre (at desk 44) who speaks English.

The nearest subway stop is Shanghai zoo, Line 10. It’s a bit of a walk from the subway station to the centre, but not complicated to find- it’s right next to a gas station just inside the outer ring road(外环路).

I asked for a Chinese car and motorcycle license (C1-D in my case- the ‘D’ is the highest level and includes sidecars- awesome for me, although was confusing when I got it because I thought a 三轮车(sanlun Che)- three wheeled bike was only for disabled people – I was most upset and thought they’d not given me a full motorcycle license.. little did I know that the lady at window 44 had given me the full endorsement and a rare license to ride sidecars, which I was able to do just six months later- awesome:)

*This was in October 2010.

I’m going to give details on how to get a Chinese driving license if you already have one in your home country and if you also have, or will have, a residence permit to live in China- say you are working here (this is a separate full page sticker you get in your passport when you come here to live and work and is not the ‘z’ class visa). I don’t know about the situation with those who enter for study, although I know they also get a residence permit.

It is apparently possible to get a temporary driving license when entering China with a Tourist (‘L’ class) visa, but my friend from France was turned down when he got here because they said he needed a 30 day entry, annoying for him because he had had that option in Paris but the consular staff never advised him to get it although he told them he would need a driving permit once inside China – it might be worth getting this at the consulate in your country.

That said, I’ll continue. So you go to the Hami road centre with a copy of your foreign driver’s license, and a Chinese translation of this. You need to go to one of two places in town to get it translated by an approved agency for about fifty yuan. This is great because you can give them your arbitrarily chosen Chinese name.

You take a number downstairs then go to the second floor at the back and hope that you are referred to the English speaking lady at desk 44.

Then she sends you outside to run between buildings and get photos taken (I did this right before closing so it was deserted and a real rush) and have some simple medical tests- eye check ( “cover your left eye, read this”), hearing test and reflex test- pretty sure I remember the older lady in a white coat hitting my knee with a comically small hammer. Go back upstairs and hand this all in the choose a time to come back and sit the written test. This all costs next to nothing (under fifty yuan for the photos and medical)

When you come back to the centre, you’ll go to the second floor, and if you go to the back, there is a door at  side of the room that goes outside up a fires escape and leads to the silent test centre where there’s a rather military-like guy pacing up and down, computers against the walls and a T.V. to watch horrific traffic accidents on whilst you wait for your test.

The test is timed and It’ll give you 100 random questions. You need to get a score of ninety to pass. If you stuff it up, the drill sergeant guy will, kindly, allow you another go that day. If you don’t pass the second time, it’s time to head back down to the lady at desk 44 to arrange another sitting in the future.

Do you know what these mean?

A note here, don’t just go on the internet like me and answer test questions because when you come to do the test, you’ll find that the website you visited only had about a quarter of the questions and was in ridiculous Chinglish. Instead, pro tip here, download the app for your phone ‘Drive in China’ by Michael Borgers and use this. It’s a little expensive but is comprehensive and has a flashcard style learning system, telling you when you’re ready to take the test.

If you pass, you’ll go to the second floor and  pay a paltry sum, like 20 yuan and they will make up your card license.

Good luck.

It’s worth checking the current situation with the traffic police. Here’s their website. If you are occasionally character challenged like me, whack it into Baidu or google translate. I’m sorry, you’ll need a Chinese speaker to look over this but..

http://sh.122.gov.cn

Ride and Review of NEW Zongshen RX3 and RX4 motorcycles.

 

Hi there. Let me explain who I am to give you an idea of how this video came about. I’m a Brit and I’ve lived in China for about SEVEN YEARS in different places and I currently live in Shanghai.

LAST year I took my driving license test here in China and immediately went on a trip to the mountains on a 400cc motorcycle. I’ve bought a dirt bike here for adventures and usually I can be found riding sidecars here in Shanghai.

In November, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to join a test ride of two unreleased bikes made by Chinese manufacturer Zongshen motorcycles. The RX3s twin cylinder 380cc and the RX4 single 450cc. These are two middle weight adventure bikes.

The test ride was  about 42 days and made a huge loop in Southern China with eight bikes to test for faults and gain marketing material for the launch.

I joined the ride for ten days getting to ride both bikes.The camaraderie with the other riders was great and Zongshen really looked after me during the trip.

There were two bikes being tested, the new 450cc single cyclinder- the rX4.on the right here, and the

The test ride focused on the new RX3s which is a double cylinder 380cc bike putting out 27 horsepower. Both bikes have adventure styling, including essentials like a large screen, which worked fairly well, crash bars, and a large 20 litre tank for long distances between refuelling. In China, ABS and the aluminium panniers and top box can also be added.

They Apart from test riding a 20 year old klx250, I have only ever ridden Chinese bikes. I took a another Chinese bike- a 400cc hineray for a six day jaunt in the hills of Yunnan.

REVIEW

The RX3s

The marketing guy said that the RX3s is aimed at people getting into off road and Adventure riding or touring, people moving from normal road bikes here in the domestic market. It has a low seat- great for the Chinese market compared this to the X5 and X2 which I’ve ridden more accessible for Chinese riders we even had a female rider along who could put her feet down…

The RX3s is probably more road oriented, but the low seat means you are sat “in” the bike rather than on top so much. If you do some off-road on a trip, the lower centre of gravity is quite confidence inspiring. We took the bikes along the beach and into the surf also into the hills on some-  albeit limited -stretches of rocky and steep unpaved sections.

Standing up is pretty comfortable and the bike is quite easy to control in this position, although my fellow French rider said he bottomed out the suspension..again more road biased.

I’ve found that, in China, long trips involve A LOT of road and a LITTLE dirt, so it’s well suited for adventures in China where going into the wild is not the basis of your ride.

I’ve got to say though comfort on the RX3s was pretty good, wide squishy and set back seat (I’ve had a numb bum more than once riding more offload biased Chinese bikes long distance in China …whereas the Rx3s didn’t give me this once in 6-7 days)… I only found on a couple of days after 1-2 hours in the saddle pretty bad pain in my knees. I’m 178-180 and maybe because of the lower seat, the pegs have come up if compared with the higher more off-road bikes.

The RX3s cruises at highway speeds comfortably. 120-130 is really comfortable- 120 miles per hour is 74 miles per hour. good enough for the highway. The acceleration is okay on the RX3s and the best thing is the long fifth gear and the fact it has six gears– always more on top for overtaking and maneauvres on the highway. Very little vibration in bars etc. It’s a counterbalanced engine (correct me if I’m wrong).

Seating…well standing was easy on both bikes and we did this frequently on long rides to strecth and to avoid the massive pot holes in some of the road sufaces..plus the off- road bits that we did. I came off   on the sand) I think it was really nice having a heavier bike  compared to my 250 dual sport .. it made mevv feel planted on the road and somehow gives confidence off road. I remember U.S. reviews of the RX3 250cc saying that it’s clearly not intended for hard beating offroad. This may be true here, but I enjoyed the extra comfort on the road.

 

I can’t really comment on quality, as I didn’t ride for a really extended time, but I did see rust on the frame which the top box was attached to..weird for a bike that was four weeks old..

I found it difficult to find second gear. That was a pain.

On the plus side,  I had no electrical problems with the bike, which I’ve had before with Chinese bikes whereby the fuel gage didn’t work, there was nothing present like this in the RX3s  I rode.

My French riding partner told me that suspension and breaks do not match Japanese adventure bike quality. To be honest, I’ve only ridden Chinese bikes, so it’s not. a comparison I can make, but , yes I’ve mentioned that this is a more road oriented bike so suspension is not massive.

The  RX4

I rode the rx4 for one of the days. At first, I was disappointed as it’s not as nippy and flickable as the rx3s.

Plus acceleration and deceleration both seemed slower (the latter with engine But, after a while, I found it not to be sluggish on the road(it’s heavier by 20kg) but it felt more planted .. The extra power became quite reassuring. Still, at first felt I had to anticipate stuff ahead of time, cos, unlike the smaller bike, it didn’t quickly pull into empty spaces.. And unlike the smaller bike often had no more to give at the top of the rev range.

Actually, and maybe it’s just the specific bike I was using, I found it maxed out at 6k in sixth gear with the throttle wide open. I managed a top speed of about 148Nice chugging power though. perhaps the top end power runs out.. the Rx3s seemed to always have more available (just in comparison with the RX4) and was slightly less vibey at speed. Another rider said that might be because the screen is bigger so less wind, dunno, I although inexpert would put it down to the fact it’s a single not twin cylinder.

 

5 ways to travel comfortably in China

The consequence of booking your train at the last minute. This was our hard seat train From Dunhuang, Gansu to Turpan, Xinjiang.

Give the address to a taxi driver in Mandarin. Get someone at the hostel to write down the address in Chinese characters. When first in China, ten years ago in aTibetan part in the rather wild West of Sichuan province, we met a girl who was studying Chinese, she did this for us and it seemed like a super power to me. Still does in a way. You can ask an English speaking hostel staff member to do this for you or even better show them the Chinese in your guidebook or on a translation app like Pleco.

Take toilet paper everywhere. Everywhere. The reason for this is that in China, commonly, public toilets do not have toilet paper or soap. You can can buy little packets of tissues from everywhere for one yuan- always make sure you’ve got at least one. Reminds me of my first time in Chengdu, again ten years ago, when I got a really upset stomach and had to be within running distance of a toilet at all times on our trip around the city. Now imagine that with no loo roll when you do get to the bathroom(I had some).

Take Hand sanitiser. This is a must for China. You can take wet wipes as well. The reason, same as above, soap isn’t provided usually in bathrooms, if you think this is nonsense, try leaving Shanghai. You Can get cheapish hand sanitiser in big cities from Watsons (a chemist/beauty store) or similar. The best I’ve found though was 12 yuan with it’s own mini carabiner to attach it to a bag from Decathlon.(which itself is a good tip with something stupid like 130  sports catered for and cheap with good quality outdoors stuff) Some stores are here in Shanghai..

http://www.smartshanghai.com/listings/all/?chain=decathlon

Avoid travelling on Chinese national holidays if possible. Basically, you may or may not know but the Chinese workforce, largely, all have the same holidays. Worth Checking When these holidays fall when you travel to China as you don’t want to bet going to a tourist site with everyone in China and his Mum. The first reason is it’ll be ridiculous crowded, the other is obviously cost- of everything. I should know, I went to Sanya on the Tropical Southern Island of Hainan during Chinese New Year

Holidays to watch out for are Chinese New Year, National day- the 1-7 October and to a lesser extent QingMing in May.

Book the train a few days before travel. This seems common sense, but it’s amazing the amount of times I fall foul of this. See the picture below of a seated train in Xinjiang- nice.

A traveller tip- book your leaving train when you enter the city, While you’re still in the station, or if you’re posh, get the hostel to do it at an inflated cost:) This actually reminds me of an extremely rewarding experience booking a train from Xi’an when I’d only been in China 3 days. Take the guide book, memorise ‘tomorrow'(mingtian) ‘soft sleeper’ (ruanwo)and ‘how much?’ (duoshaoqian?), bingo.